Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Right Stuff

Neil Armstrong: August 5, 1930 - August 25, 2012

Perhaps, based on how he chose to live his life, Mr. Armstrong would be pleased with how little media attention his death attracted this past weekend.  

I am not just saddened by the fact that the first person to ever step foot on the lunar surface passed away.  I am also saddened that his death was over shadowed by the out of wedlock birth of Snooki's baby and naked photos of Prince Harry.  What does this say about us, about our society, when the passing of a true American hero receives such little media coverage in comparison?

The absolute awe of moon travel - of actually landing and walking on the moon, is missing from our world.  I remember when I was still teaching and trying to get my students to understand why Neil Armstrong's and Buzz Aldrin's moments on the moon's surface were amazing.  But how do you explain that to teenagers who are accustomed to "traveling" to new galaxies through their Playstation 3 or with the use of their Mac Book Pro?  How can generations of kids, who have missed watching the moon rise over the horizon while playing wiffle ball with friends or have never used the moon light to guide them through a neighborhood game of manhunt appreciate the exploration of its surface?

Landing on the moon was the greatest technological accomplishment of the century, and I would argue of all time.  The achievement itself is magestic on its own, but the technological advancements that were a direct result of the mission, impact all of our lives on a daily basis.  And Neil Armstrong's role in the landing is unknown to many.  With only 15 seconds of fuel left, he was able to land at the Sea of Tranquility.  And when a ignition switch failed when it was time to return to Earth, he and Buzz Aldrin were able to use a pen to complete the electrical circuit.    

The last man to walk on the moon's surface did so when I was only 6 months old.  Soon, we will be living in a world in which none of the only 12 men who left footprints on the moon will be alive.  Our space program for all intents and purposes is finished, at least in the public's eye.

So much can be learned from Mr. Armstrong.  Not only for what he accomplished, but, for how he chose to handle his celebrity.  By all accounts, he was a humble man who avoided the spotlight.  He didn't seek out praise or attention from the media following his historic walk on the moon.  He returned home to his wife and children and skipped the media and hard partying path some other astronauts chose to follow. 

Perhaps the best description of Mr. Armstrong was by Virginia Heffernan who wrote, 
"Armstrong was resolutely adult and elegantly square."  

If only more of our current "heroes" were resolutely adult and elegantly square.

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