If you weren’t alive then, you have no idea what it was like, how thrilling it was. I dare say it was our last National Thrill. We’ve had other moments, some good, some bad, some great. We’ve had moments of triumph---the death of Osama Bin Laden, for example… Moments of despair---the Challenger, the Columbia, and of course the date that will live along with December 7, 1941 and November 22, 1963…September 11, 2001. Moments of athletic excitement---the US Hockey Team, Muhammed Ali v. Joe Frazier, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, with their own thrilling wins, Carlton Fisk’s extra-innings home run in the ‘75 Series; plus (insert name of your team here) over (insert “name” and date of your game here) (insert name of “enemy vanquished” here). (My personal: “7th Heaven”, Arkansas 58, Ole Miss 56, 7 Overtimes, Oxford, MS).
But absolutely nothing can even touch Man Landing on the Moon. The entire world watched. There were directions in the paper for taking pictures of your TV screen with your Brownie, or Instamatic, or Leica. It was a triumph---we were smart enough to do it, by God! We had run a daunting race and WON! And we beat the freaking SOVIETS!!! And those brave men were o-so-many miles away, and we all watched on TV, then went outside and looked up at the moon in awe.
And quickly forgot about them. Apollo 11 was viewed by the entire world. By the now-infamous Apollo 13, they couldn’t even buy time in prime time.
Now Americans ride to the International Space Stations with the Russians, and the US Government is systematically gutting NASA. Manned space flights are considered “out of vogue”; we’d rather send “smart” Rovers to Mars and the other places, and the remaining people who accomplished this amazing feat are passing on now. Commercial companies are taking over space flight (can’t you just see the ads inside: “Corns? Try Dr. Scholl’s Amazing Corn Remover!”).
But then, it was thrilling, exciting, and wonderful to see MAN doing it.
And while there were many fantastic souls working on the ground for decades—whole careers—to put Man into Space, nobody compared with those brave men (and later women) who actually WENT, actually DID it. Especially the first ones, like the Mercury 7, and the Gemini astronauts, and then the Apollo guys. They were really “out there” on a limb, in unknown and very hostile territory, wearing the flag of the United States but representing us all.
May our hero Neil rest in peace, and may Light Perpetual shine upon him.
Neil Alden Armstrong, August 5, 1930 – August 25, 2012
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air....
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
Where never lark, or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
- Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.