Editorial: Neil Armstrong should be remembered for heroism
Published: Tuesday, August 28, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, August 28, 2012 00:08
Neil Armstrong, the first person to walk on the moon, died this past Saturday. His achievement placed him in the highest echelons of American and human heroism. His service as a Navy officer and a test pilot, which are less celebrated, are equally deserving of recognition and praise, and the news of his passing compels us to reflect on the change the world has seen since his extraordinary voyage 43 years ago.
Armstrong’s professional career began at a time when the United States had suffered grave national embarrassments on the Final Frontier. In 1957 and 1961, respectively, the Soviet Union launched the first orbiting satellite and put the first man in space, while the American space program was, literally, struggling to get off the ground. Recognizing that a great national effort needed to be made to secure more American successes in spaceflight and rocketry, President John F. Kennedy challenged the nation in 1961 to put a man on the moon by 1970. The United States did meet Kennedy’s challenge in 1969. That man on the moon was Neil Armstrong.
However, Armstrong should not be remembered merely for the sake of patriotism. Nor is he the only great hero of that golden age of space exploration that we choose to venerate. The Apollo 11 mission manned by Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins was, after all, lifted to great heights by a national effort. It took a nationwide rededication to mathematics, science, technology and engineering to keep the dream of manned spaceflight to the moon possible; it took a small army of technicians and scientists on our home planet to ensure a safe voyage for the astronauts; and it took the courage and tenacity of leaders and citizens everywhere to believe in the value of scientific exploration and great human achievement. In a sense, it was a triumph for the nation, an affirmation of the decade of effort that put an American on the moon.
Neil Armstrong, however, did not land on the moon as an American – he was the first of our entire species to accomplish the remarkable feat of traveling to another world. The 1969 moon landing was a triumph of human ingenuity and a symbol of the limitless nature of human wonder and exploration. And for that giant leap forward for the human race, we have to thank Neil Armstrong, first among interplanetary travelers, for the courage of his one small step.