On August 25th 2012 Earth lost one of its greatest sons and as one described the first child of the Moon. I was on vacation in Mexico and ironically was actually staring up at the daytime Moon when my wife broke the news to me that Neil Armstrong had passed away, a sobering moment of intense thought followed, a mixture of sadness and loss of hope. I thought to hold back tears but couldn’t actually pin down as to why? Yes he was a larger than life historic figure but a deeper sadness overcame me, more than I had ever felt with any other famous figure passing. It was an extremely emotional day as I sought to make sense of my emotions and now it seems all too clear why. The man was a pioneer, a living legend, the epitome of the cowboy explorer boldly facing death in the name of adventure: he was every young boys idea of what they wanted to be when they grew up. No other name besides Elvis invokes so much recognition, it is one of those facts that every one knows – Who was the first man on the moon? Neil Armstrong!
The Apollo missions never happened in my lifetime but they were always there in video or books or folklore of what humans did many decades ago when the technology was seemingly primitive with what we have today. Primitive technology would be accurate as the entire Apollo 11 mission happened with less computing power that we contain in our smart phones! Yes, your iPhone sitting in your pocket holds more computing power than the technology used to send a man to the Moon! It is such an unreal achievement and one that has not been replicated since the last man walked on the moon back in 1972. I guess a part of me feeling downhearted by Neil’s passing was caused by the lack of ambition to continue going back to the moon. Here we achieved so much but just stopped and manned flight to other worlds is still sitting on the back burner 40 years since the last manned flight. Neil’s passing really brought that sad fact home and unfortunately I don’t see too much changing with regards to manned space flight. It is an obvious fact that the only reason NASA received so much funding to fly men to the Moon was because of the cold war and the American government insistence on beating the Soviets to prove superiority. These days there is no political or financial incentive to spend that money flying people into space and there within lies the problem, scientific endeavour just doesn’t seem a good enough reason for those in power. The recent Mars rover landed on Mars using such a tiny fraction of the US budget, tiny when compared to the money pumped into their military and arms, I guess war still seems the best thing to invest in – how sad.
Here we face a problem, in a world governed by technology afforded to us by science we have a growing number of people with no understanding or interest in science. These people get into power and transfer that ignorance of science into regarding it as something not worth fighting for, voting on, spending money doing. It is extremely sad that I could very well die and never witness a man land on the Moon again, having been born years after the Apollo missions and probably long dead before another mission. I would give anything to be back in 1969 watching on my black and white TV while Neil take those steps and say those words, how amazing, how inspiring. Those words reverberated through generations but sadly the echo seems to be fading out and I can see no other way for a new generation to get their space fix than sending another man back to the Moon. There are discussions and plans to do so but sadly they keep getting blackballed and pushed back by political dealings.
I think Neil’s death should really hit home with us because the man who first set foot on the Moon and paved the way for space exploration has died. How many years will it be before all who set foot on the Moon have similarly passed away? Then we will be left with a world void of men who could say “I have set foot on another world.” Manned space pioneering will be resigned to the history books and left as little more than a consequence of the Cold war, a fleeting moment of human exploration brought to an end by political intentions. We need to get science back into the young and into the heads of the politicians, we need to fight for man to once again stand on another world and show another generation that Earth is merely our nest but the Cosmos is our skies! Neil died without seeing more done by our technologically superior age, I guess that is why his death hit me so hard.
When you look at the Moon, give it a wink and think of Neil, think of him blasting off from Earth on a Saturn V rocket and hurtling towards the Moon, landing on it and watching us back with such perspective that very few humans have experienced and maybe never will again?