I was born 16 years after humans first walked on the moon.
It was years before I actually started to understand what the event meant. Two men had walked on a shore so distant, it floats in the sky. They ventured into the Sea of Tranquility and found it alien. They left boot prints upon another world.
The adventures of fictional characters into the reaches of space are among the things that inspired me throughout my life. The exploration of unknown worlds is something with which I’ve always been fascinated, and stories such as those drove me to start telling stories of my own, and the stories of others.
The story of Neil Armstrong, however, is in a class all its own. He wasn’t a legend birthed in the imaginings of some writer crafting alien landscapes that never existed; he was a man, a real one, who took humanity’s first steps beyond the Earth. His story was by far the most fascinating, and the most inspiring. He was a man who was a true hero, and there really are so few of those. But he never sought such spotlight. Armstrong saw duty in his voyage. It was a job. He believed in service. And that was it.
I read a number of obituaries for Armstrong over the weekend. There are a lot of amazing accounts out there of the things he did, as well as stories of his life. The New York Times reprinted in full its 1969 coverage of the lunar landing, and National Public Radio shared a message Armstrong sent to Radio Lab’s Robert Krulwich in 2010 that explained a great deal about the actual experience of walking on the moon. Here you can listen to Armstrong’s radio broadcast as he took those first steps, even though, like me, you likely can hear it perfectly in your mind. NASA compiled a statement from his family and from Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, as well as other notable people in the organization. You should read it.
It’s been only 43 years since Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a fact I still find difficult to comprehend. But everything is different now than it was two days ago. No one born today or beyond will have shared a world with Neil Armstrong, who was first to touch another world. That’s something I find very sad.
But his example will inspire others, the way his story and the story of explorers like him always inspired me. Neil Armstrong will be missed.
Also, did you know Armstrong and Aldrin left more than footprints and their lander on the lunar surface? They also abandoned bags of their pee.