Saturday, August 25, 2012

"Thank you, Mr. Armstrong"

Most people over a certain age know precisely where they were when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon on July 20, 1969. I don't because I was three at the time. I do remember the night in 2004 when I got to shake his hand. It was an awards gala where Armstrong was being given the National Space Trophy by the Rotary National Awards for Space Achievement. Oddly, the first man to walk on the moon was the 18th recipient of RNASA's annual award.

It's a fairly rare occasion for me to be speechless, but when I shook his hand all I could muster was a near-breathless, "Thank you, Mr. Armstrong." 

I was one of probably 500 people who shook his hand that night and one of millions that shook his hand in the 43 years since he walked on the moon. He was a reluctant and gracious celebrity. With so many frivolous people famous for nothing other than attracting attention to themselves, it's easy to forget that one of the most famous men in history wished for nothing more than to be left alone to teach and live in the small Ohio town where he grew up. 

We've gotten dulled to the incredible technology that we surround ourselves with every day. Most of us take more computing power to the gym than Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins took to the moon.

NASA photo
Armstrong was passionate about engineering and unhappy that NASA's human spaceflight program seemed adrift, with no American rockets left to carry Americans to space and none on the horizon anytime soon. No one could take Armstrong's title of "First Man" from him, but he understood that America could very well lose its place as the world's foremost country for space exploration.

Times are turbulent now, but not any more so than the late 1960s. We went to the moon during all of that generational upheaval and there's no good excuse for why we don't have the world's most audacious human space program. Space programs employ thousands of really smart people who get that way with a great education. Those are just two benefits of space exploration.

Rovers are really cool and NASA's Curiosity mission to Mars is a great achievement. All things being equal though, footprints beat tire tracks.

When you look up at the moon tonight remember that 12 men from Earth left footprints up there. Most importantly, remember to say, "Thank you, Mr. Armstrong."

Bill Salvin

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