To Neil Armstrong: A Wink and A Nod
Thursday, August 30th, 2012
by AJ Plunkett
On the next clear night that you can see the moon, give Neil Armstrong a wink.
That is the suggestion of his relatives, as they mourn the man they knew as a husband, father, and brother — a man who the rest of the world knew as the first human to set foot on the moon.
A Role Model, Remembered
Armstrong died on August 25, at the age of 82. Memorials in honor of the man and his legacy have come from around the globe, many from those who, inspired by that first step, have since accomplished firsts of their own.
Marc Garneau was the first Canadian astronaut to fly in space aboard the Space Shuttle in 1984; a mere 15 years after Armstrong’s famous first step. He recalled Armstrong, noting that he was “not a man with a big ego.” Garneau was 20 when Armstrong took his first steps. While on Navy training in the English Channel, he listened to the historic broadcast of Apollo 11 landing on the moon. “This wasn’t just the U.S. doing this for itself,” he said. “It was the first human being to set foot on another celestial body. It will be remembered 10,000 years from now.”
Chris Hadfield was the first Canadian in space to use the famed Canadarm, and he is scheduled to soon become the first Canadian astronaut to command the International Space Station. In the summer of 1969, he was a youngster just about to turn 10 when he gathered with family and friends at a neighbor’s house to watch Armstrong and astronaut Buzz Aldrin on television.
“I remember, afterward, walking outside and looking up, and seeing the moon and thinking that we had managed to figure out a way to go there,” he told The Globe and Mail. “That people had organized and somehow schemed and planned and plotted and invented and taken the very edge of what they knew and gotten to that place for the first time in human history.”
“And I found it absolutely inspiring, fundamentally inspiring. And I resolved that night, July 20, 1969 to be an astronaut when I grew up — you know, me and ten million other people,” Hadfield said.
While inspiring others that day, Armstrong and Aldrin took time to honor those who had provided inspiration before them, leaving a small memorial on the moon to astronauts Ed White, Gus Grissom and Roger B. Chaffee, who died during testing for Apollo 1, and also to the late Soviet cosmonauts Vladimir Komarov and Yuri Gagarin.
Komarov was part of the Soviet effort to get to the moon first, and was in Soyuz 1 when it crashed in 1967 upon re-entry, making Komarov the first human to die in a spaceflight. Gagarin, of course, will always be remembered as the first human in space, a feat he achieved in 1961. He died in a test flight in 1968.
A Worldly Tribute
Jean-Jacques Dordain, Director General of the European Space Agency, said in a statement that the first steps of Armstrong and Aldrin “are part of the history of humankind, meaning they go beyond the boundaries of space history or American history”.
After July 20, 1969, “Neil Armstrong belonged to humanity, just like his predecessor Yuri Gagarin who made us ‘discover’ our planet Earth.”
“After this day, the competition between the two great space superpowers in human spaceflight was replaced by cooperation, and today Americans and Russians work together in space with their Japanese, Canadian and European colleagues.”
A lot to think about the next time you look at the moon. So offer up a wink to Armstrong. And perhaps another to all the others before and after him.
AJ Plunkett is a freelance writer in Virginia with experience in covering defense and aerospace industries as well as the military. AJ blogs via Contently.com.