Neil Armstrong, the first citizen of Earth to set foot elsewhere, died last Saturday aged 82. For those (450 million) of us who watched Neil Armstrong’s moon walk, his death seemed like a personal loss, even if we had never met the man. Back in 1969, the moon landing was an incredible inspiration to a young teenager. Many of us dreamed of becoming astronauts and of traveling on spacecraft to Mars and beyond. The NASA space program inspired many of us to a heightened interest in science fiction stories. We were the Doctor Who/Star Trek generation.
The space program and the moon landing of Apollo 11 made many people open their minds to possibilities beyond our world and realize how tiny and insignificant our lives are in the bigger scheme of things. Sadly, there have been few initiatives since that time to inspire us all to such a positive view about the future of humans in the universe, and the concept of mankind as the custodians of a small but beautiful planet that we need to take care of and share.
Neil Armstrong’s steps on the moon were a giant leap for mankind in many ways. Not only did they demonstrate what humans were capable of, and bring the world together for a shared moment of wonderment, they heralded the beginnings of the age of computer technology and globalization, an increased environmental consciousness and even more racial tolerance, although none of these things have been without their own tensions.
John F. Kennedy’s stated goal to land on the moon was an outward-looking, positive initiative even if it had its genesis in an American desire to give the Soviet Union a symbolic hiding to win what became known as the “Space Race”.
But in many ways, Neil Armstrong was a representative of the human race, not just the United States. He was a modest hero who did not pursue the cult of celebrity as he could easily have done, but who seemed to understand his place representing the bigger picture of what landing on the moon meant.
I hope that one day the world is given another chance to be inspired by a global challenge, and until then we remember the many modest heroes like Neil Armstrong, who live among us, all of them trying to make the world a better place for the rest of us.