With one small step and one giant leap,
Neil Armstrong fulfilled one of humanity's greatest dreams.
I'm sad to say that yet another hero is gone: Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon, has passed away. We've lost a number of scientific heroes in the last few years, from "Mr. Wizard" Dan Herbert to renowned essayist Martin Gardner, but Armstrong may well have captured the world's imagination like no one else because of his role as the face of the Apollo 11 program. An aeronautical engineer by training, Armstrong was a tried and true scientist and, like every other brave man and woman who has traveled into space, a very real hero. His death is a loss to all of us, but his legacy as one of the pioneers of human space exploration will live on forever.
At 2:56 UTC on July 21, 1969 (which, I believe, would have been at 10:56 pm EST on July 20th where I live), Neil Armstrong lowered his left foot onto the surface of the moon and realized a dream that may be as old as humanity itself. I can only imagine how it felt to be alive at that point in history - Nevermind how Armstrong himself must have felt standing on the moon; I can barely imagine the awe, wonderment, and pride in humanity that the people watching back on Earth felt watching it on television. It gives me goosebumps just to think about it.
My family has a story about the Apollo landing that my mom has told me a few times. My oldest brother was a baby when Apollo 11 landed on the moon, and our mom woke him up in the middle the night and held him in front of the TV so that, whether he would ever remember it or not, he could see that historic moment. I'm honestly a little jealous. Hell, I get chills just watching recordings of that moment.
We live in amazing times. Armstrong's footprints on the moon have been joined by others. The International Space Station provides humanity with a full-time outpost in space. The Hubble Space Telescope, to be joined in 2018 by the Webb Space Telescope, is beaming back to the earth pictures of objects unimaginably distant from us in both time an space. Curiosity, a truck-sized scientific robot, is exploring the surface of Mars. Sometimes this sort of hits me all at once and makes me almost giddy at the wonder of it all.
I realized this morning when I was getting ready to type this post that there's probably someone alive today - a child in elementary school or even an infant bouncing in a high chair - who will, twenty or thirty years from now, take a deep breath, close their eyes, and carefully lower their foot onto the surface of Mars. When that moment comes, I'm sure Neil Armstrong's famous words will be echoing through the mind of this new pioneer. I could type them out, but I rather hear them from Neil.
Damn right it looks beautiful from here.