Neil Armstrong passed away this weekend, just shy of his 82nd birthday, and the world marked the passing of a key figure in history, an icon for anyone who ever looked to the stars and tried to locate the craters on the moon with a telescope.

On July 16, 1989, I was living in Washington, DC, and working at the Smithsonian Institution and my friend showed me an announcement: “The first men to walk on the moon will participate in a public ceremony celebrating the 20th anniversary of their lunar landing at 10 a.m. Thursday outside the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.  Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon on July 20, 1969.  They stepped down from the lunar module “Eagle,” while Michael Collins orbited overhead in the command module “Columbia.”  All three men are expected at the Smithsonian ceremony in their honor, which is being co-sponsored by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).”
Our friend who worked at the National Air and Space Museum volunteered to work at the Apollo exhibit the night of the anniversary, and we got to man the exhibit with him and received a great poster commemorating the anniversary when it was all done.  It was a great experience being there as we had both not witnessed the TV airing of the original moon landing.  One of the curators let us handle an actual moon boot and I remember ooing and ahhing over it as a TV reporter interviewed my friend at the booth.
 
The morning of the 20th anniversary of the moon landing, President George Bush and Vice President Dan Quayle (the acting president of the Smithsonian) spoke and introduced Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins, the first men to visit the moon.  It was the only time I saw Neil Armstrong in person.  Unlike the other moon men, Armstrong was a private man and kept out of the public spotlight.  Without his spacesuit he looked like any other guy you’d pass on the street.  Like many others I always wanted to know more about him.

When I think of Armstrong I think of his fame and status in the context of the history of mankind.  In Michael H. Hart’s book The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History, Hart includes President John F. Kennedy on his list, along with the likes of Aristotle, Jesus Christ, Gutenberg, Galileo, Copernicus, Isaac Newton, Muhammed, Edison, Michaelangelo and Beethoven.”   Why Kennedy?  Hart writes:

“A thousand years from now, neither the Peace Corps, nor the Alliance for Progress, nor the Bay of Pigs is likely to be remembered.  Nor will it seem very important what Kennedy’s policies were concerning taxes or civil rights legislation.  John F. Kennedy has been placed on this list for one reason only:  he was the person who was primarily responsible for instituting the Apollo Space Program.  Providing that the human race has not blown itself to smithereens in the intervening time, we can be fairly sure that even 5,000 years from now, our trip to the moon will still be regarded as a truly momentous event, one of the great landmarks of human history.”

Hart goes on to clarify his position:

“I will discuss the importance of the moon program a little further on.  First, however, let me deal with the question of whether John F. Kennedy is really the man who deserves the most credit for the trip.  Should we not instead credit Neil Armstrong or Edwin Aldrin, the first men who actually set foot on the moon?  If we were ranking people on the basis of enduring fame, that might be the correct thing to do, for I rather suspect that Neil Armstrong is more likely to be remembered 5,000 years from now than John F. Kennedy.”

Armstrong’s family issued a statement: “For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.”

On Armstrong’s passing, President Barack Obama stated:

“Neil was among the greatest of American heroes–not just of his time, but of all time.  When he and his fellow crew members lifted off aboard Apollo 11 in 1969, they carried with them the aspirations of an entire nation.  They set out to show the world that the American spirit can see beyond what seems unimaginable–that with enough drive and ingenuity, anything is possible. And when Neil stepped foot on the surface of the moon for the first time, he delivered a moment of human achievement that will never be forgotten.  Today, Neil’s spirit of discovery lives on in all the men and women who have devoted their lives to exploring the unknown–including those who are ensuring that we reach higher and go further in space. That legacy will endure–sparked by a man who taught us the enormous power of one small step.”

In the year 2000, Armstrong was quoted as saying,  “I am, and ever will be, a white socks, pocket protector, nerdy engineer, and I take a substantial amount of pride in the accomplishments of my profession.”

The barely noticeable press coverage of Mr. Armstrong’s death this weekend aside, I think the view of Armstrong’s fame enduring for thousands of years is spot on.

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com