This is one of my favorite photos of the days of Apollo, which I was privileged to witness first hand, as many of us did, in the comfort of our living rooms, on television. Neil was known as a ‘cool customer’. The archetypal test pilot, unflappable and ready for anything. He is clearly just a bit emotional here, his wet eyes showing in the photo after his historic first moon walk with fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin (I admit it, mine are a bit too as I write this). I’ll probably never forget those fuzzy TV images that people around the globe were riveted to on that day. Not to mention those words. Who can possibly forget those words?
All the NASA astronauts are quick to give credit to the thousands and thousands of people who work to get them up in space. Speaks loudly to their character of course. Getting a spacecraft up there is a massive effort in teamwork which draws from a wealth of intellectual resources unparalleled in our history. Putting a human up there just adds to the drama of the whole effort. If anyone of you has ever been to Cape Canaveral or the Houston Space Center, and seen the actual hardware that these guys flew to the moon in, you would also have to acknowledge the brass b***s of these guys. That vehicle that Mr. Armstrong is sitting in wearing that prize winning smile has an outer skin that could be punctured with a finger. Yes, a finger. Or a screwdriver, or a micrometeorite. That same type of space vehicle became a lifeboat for Jim Lovell, Bill Anders, and Jack Swigert when their slightly more substantial CSM had a major explosion. We’re talking 1960’s engineering here. To the moon. And back. 9 times.
Why we stopped doing this is beyond me. The obvious answer is politics of course. Much of the technology that we enjoy and debate about is spillover from those days of lunar exploration. Without getting political about it, I am appalled at the gutting of our space program. It’s been pointed out that it cost something like $6B to land Curiosity on Mars, and the Olympics cost $16B to produce. While I think both are worthy endeavors, you can’t help but notice the bang for the buck we get in space, not to mention the increase in our knowledge of the universe and our place in it. Can we really put a price on that?
Even though Neil would not want me or anyone else to keep making such a fuss over him (he was not comfortable with all the attention on him), I have to say thanks Neil, and Buzz, and all the rest of you astronauts, and the technicians and engineers and medical folks, the flight controllers…everyone who raised our sight that day, and many other days, above the petty, the mundane and the ordinary that we all seem to get caught up in. Thanks for reminding us that we humans aren’t so bad after all, and though we are capable of horrors, we are also capable of greatness.
UPDATE: Thanks to +Johnathan Chung via +Samantha Cristiforetti on Google+, this is a link to a very rare series of interviews from Australian TV with Neil Armstrong. Enjoy!