Saturday, August 25, 2012

Neil Armstrong

Neil Armstrong died today.

For those of us who vividly remember watching the ghostly t.v. images of him and Buzz Aldrin kangaroo-hopping on the Moon, this moment is a staggering and sobering reminder of the inexorable passage of time. An icon of an era is gone and our age and mortality are brought to the forefront of our consciousness like the blinking, blinding neons of Las Vegas. We are old, too, and feeling older by the moment.

But what a life he led, and what an amazing accomplishment! Yet he fully realized that what he did was on the shoulders of thousand and thousands of people working diligently and over long hours to make that mission a success. We like our heroes; we like them even better when they are modest and appreciative.

I had the chance to see and hear Neil Armstrong give a talk at the Society of Experimental Test Pilots convention a few years ago. The talk was on the flight tests and performance characteristics of the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle, the spindly bedpost of a machine that nearly killed him on one flight. It was a spellbinding talk. I'm glad I got to see it and him.

The Lunar Module, like the one that I shot above during our visit to the Kennedy Space Center in 2002, is a stark reminder of the audacity of that program. To think that Americans went to the Moon in that ungainly and fragile-looking vehicle is awe-inspiring. That it worked six times and saved the crew on the one other attempt is even more stunning. I hope America will be that audacious again.

Neil Armstrong will forever be the first human to walk on the Moon. As Charles Bolden, head of NASA said, as long as history books are written, he will be remembered. And he should be.

Godspeed, Neil Armstrong.  Well Done.

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