Neil Armstrong, the first to us to leave the shores of earth and step upon another world, is dead. To his families and friends, my sympathy and condolences.
Looking back on that moment in 69 it’s hard not to see it through the lens of hindsight as inevitable. But the truth, the truth is that this was an epic leap into the unknown with risk in every switch throw. Armstrong himself narrowly avoided death a few days before the launch, when the lander simulator he was flying crashed. Even the flight control software was perilously glitchy and nearly caused a crash on the way in to the landing site at Tranquility.
Hard also to explain to someone who has not lived through it, the feverish intensity of the cold war and the race to the moon by the two great powers. A species defining act of imagination, courage, skill and art yes, but one carried out against the backdrop of super power machinations and the ever-present threat of the bomb. Even the spacecraft that carried the astronauts had a lineage going back to the German V2s that rained terror on London in the last dying gasp of the Third Reich, built by german rocket scientists who held a vision for human exploration beyond the sky.
And what of the man? Amidst all the technology and a mission more tightly scripted than a Hollywood film, I like to remember the words “Tranquility Base” just made up on the spot, the patch left to commemorate the astronauts and cosmonauts who had died in the great race and finally just that look of tired happiness captured by Buzz Aldrin when they returned to the LEM.
Then to return after leaving your dusty footprints in the void to walk once again in the world of men. How strange knowing that there are only eleven other pairs of eyes that have gazed out through a spacesuit’s faceplate at that view. To live your life with such an achievement, and to know that only a very few know what it is like. Do you stop sometimes, look up at the bright moon, and wonder at what you and your comrades once did?
Engineer, test pilot, astronaut and explorer, Neil Armstrong Aeternum vale.