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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Requiescat in pace: Neil Alden Armstrong (1930-2012), American astronaut, hero to the human race

My friend Patterico has a post up honoring a true American hero who passed away today — Neil Armstrong, the first human to walk on the moon. Lightly edited and without blockquoting, here's the comment I left on his blog:

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I was born in 1957, the year of Sputnik — indeed, during its few weeks of orbit — so I was old enough not just to watch, but to relish, the 1969 Apollo 11 landing. Indeed, although I don’t quite remember Alan Shepard’s flight, I do definitely remember John Glenn’s, and all the rest of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo flights which preceded or followed Apollo 11.

Neil Armstrong, on the surface of the moon in July 1969By July 1969, I had several models of each major component spacecraft of the Apollo system, constructed variously of plastic, paper, or balsa wood and with varying levels of detail. Some of them were working model rockets that I’d sent hundreds of feet into the air before they returned to earth on their plastic parachutes. I was almost certainly an insufferable fan. I remember accompanying my father to the barbershop some weeks before the landing; while he got his haircuit, I was explaining to all the grownups present how the Lunar Excursion Module was practically made of aluminum foil, and that the real one was less rugged than some of my models. On the fateful day, while Walter Cronkite narrated, Armstrong was piloting the real LEM over and around the boulders strewn across the Sea of Tranquility, and I was piloting my favorite and most detailed plastic version over and around the sofas, chairs, and other obstacles of the Dyer living room. Neil and I had simultaneous, and equally successful, touchdowns. The whole world celebrated.

Folks are apparently still arguing over whether Armstrong said “One small step for man,” which made no sense, or “One small step for a man,” which made perfect sense. I wish historians could get their acts together and report it the way it makes sense, even if they feel compelled to drop a footnote to suggest that Armstrong might have inadvertently swallowed the “a.” Let’s recognize that Armstrong didn’t have the luxury that Doug MacArthur had to re-film his return to the Philippines and re-shoot his famous “I have returned” line until he was entirely satisfied with it.

Armstrong wasn’t just a lucky guy who was in the right place at the right time to snag a history-making role — although there was some luck involved in his beating out the other Apollo astronaut candidates and astronaut wannabes. Rather, he and his fellows were extraordinary pilots and professionals, patriots who’d seen friends blown apart or burned up while pushing the boundaries of manned flight. They all knew the same could happen to them at almost any moment, but they were all righteously committed to helping make that giant leap for mankind. Can we at least give them all the benefit of a generous standard for quoting what might in fact have been said, and what clearly was meant to be said, instead of a truncated and nonsensical version of that quote?

Posted by Beldar at 04:30 PM in Film/TV/Stage, History, Science, Technology/products, Travel | Permalink

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Comments

(1) furious_a made the following comment | Aug 25, 2012 5:28:22 PM | Permalink

78 combat missions over Korea by the time he was 22. After than Neil Armstrong joined the Space Program.

(2) Mark L made the following comment | Aug 25, 2012 6:45:43 PM | Permalink

Apollo 11 launched on my 14th birthday. No kid could ever have asked for a better birthday candle.

Worked at JSC on the Shuttle Program from 1979 through 2011. My first years there a lot of the older engineers (they were in their late 30s and early 40s -- absolutely *ancient* I then thought) were Apollo veterans. Today I am in the oil patch, and enjoying it, but still . . .

I feel *old* today.

(3) Beldar made the following comment | Aug 25, 2012 8:39:50 PM | Permalink

A photo caption I've just seen elsewhere makes me wonder whether the photo I included in this text is actually of Buzz Aldrin instead of Neil Armstrong. If so, then that must be Armstrong in the visor reflection.

(4) Dafydd the Distinguisher made the following comment | Aug 26, 2012 12:40:15 AM | Permalink

Beldar:

And the best thing about Neil Armstrong (who did not sing in either Buffalo Springfield or Crosby, Nash, Stills, and Young, in case NBC is still befuddled) is that, unlike John Glenn, Armstrong did not strong-arm his heroic past into propaganda for beligerent Democratic partisanship.

I hope we all remember how Glenn disgraced himself during hearings on the possiblity that Red China bribed Bill Clinton with millions of dollars in campaign cash to alter U.S. foreign policy and kowtow to the PRC. (Specifically, Glenn demanded a strict time limit on the discussion... and then pointedly, almost brazenly ran out the clock, preventing us from ever finding out whether our 42nd president was a Communist patsy or dupe.)

I don't recall any overtly partisan bullying by Neil Young Armstrong; he was always a gentleman, a patriot, and a man who believed that the achievements of the space program, his own tremendous achievement included, should benefit all Mankind, and should not be politicized to benefit one party over the other.

Dafydd

(5) Milhouse made the following comment | Aug 26, 2012 8:56:24 PM | Permalink

Very good point, Dafydd. I hope to see you at Worldcon.

(6) Dafydd the Immovable made the following comment | Aug 27, 2012 4:29:38 PM | Permalink

Milhouse:

I hope to see you at Worldcon.

Heh, in 2013, maybe...!

Dafydd

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