It astounds me that there are still people out there who think the July 20th, 1969 Moon Landing was faked. These are probably the same people who think our President faked his birth certificate; women can will their bodies to prevent pregnancy from rape; all gay men are pedophiles; AIDS came from a man having sex with a monkey and Jesus rode a velociraptor around Jerusalem.
Two days after my eighth birthday (yeah, do the math), Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on Earth's moon. Armstrong, along with Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, traveled over 220,000 miles, risking their lives to make history. I sat up late to watch the event with my parents. I don't really remember my parents' reaction to it, though I know I was excited and entranced as Armstrong stepped down from the Apollo 11 lander and uttered those iconic words.
Personally, I would have been terrified to make that trip. Sure, everything had been tested and retested and tested again but there was no guarantee that they would actually make it to the moon. And even less of a guarantee that they would make it home again. Still, the rush of setting foot on an extraterrestrial body for the very first time must have been nothing less than astounding. As Collins orbited above, Armstrong and Aldrin planted a US flag; played golf and bounded about in the reduced gravity. They must have felt like Superman. I can't even imagine what it was like for them to look back on Earth from that barren landscape. Talk about breathtaking views!
At the very respectable age of 82, Armstrong joined the Great Majority today, leaving behind him a legacy even greater than those of Columbus, Magellan or Vespucci. In the future annals of Human History, Armstrong will be remembered as the man who led the way in exploring the places we will be forced to go, once our rapacious appetites have depleted Earth's resources. And while I am personally unlikely to have antecedents, I do take some comfort in knowing that the human race may actually have a chance for survival after we have finally, utterly and inevitably destroyed our home planet.
Armstrong's passing also serves as a reminder that we all share the same fate. Rich or poor; famous or anonymous; successes or failures; we all will eventually pass from this life. What lies beyond is anyone's guess (though I'm guessing it's nothing). Of course, Armstrong's feat might have been just a little more exciting had it gone like this:
Personally, I'm looking forward to the day when space travel is more like this:
And, hopefully, not like this:
Rest in Peace, Commander Armstrong. The entire world owes you a debt of gratitude. In a year in which so many pioneers have passed, yours is among the saddest.