Wink at the Moon

Today we live in a world without Neil Armstrong. When he died on 25th August 2012, his spirit left the planet for the second and final time. His family have asked that when we look up at the Moon, we wink, and think of him.

All my life, Neil Armstrong was a living connection to the space age. A single man who managed to captivate the whole world, even if was for just a few minutes, as he took his one small step. Without him here on Earth, the Moon somehow feels further away.

One can only imagine how he felt as he left the landing module. Most men would have been overwhelmed by the enormity of the event, but not him. First, there was the physical ordeal of the launch, locked inside what was little more than a giant firework with less computing power than a modern graphical calculator. Then physical disorientation: he was one of the first people to ever have experienced weightlessness and, as Apollo 11 shot away from the Earth, notions of ‘up’ and ‘down’ will have become more relative than absolute. Next, he would have sensed the total isolation that comes from being separated, not just from family and friends, but from his home planet.

Opening the door of the lander, he will have taken a deep breath, and supressed the raw fear, and the terror that something could malfunction, or that he could be lost in space. But despite all this, with the weight of history on his shoulders, and the eyes of the world trained on his every move, he managed to step confidently out onto the Moon, utter those immortal words, and make it look like a walk in the park. In moon boots.

The striking thing about Neil was his modesty. In a rare public appearance in February 2000, the fighter pilot and space hero stated “I am, and ever will be, a white-socks, pocket-protector, nerdy engineer.”

He never let his lunar adventure go to his head, and instead recognised that he was just one of a huge number of people in the space programme, who had each played their part in getting him to the Moon. In the years that followed, he was rarely seen in the media, and regularly refused to give interviews; instead he spent his time teaching engineering at the University of Cincinnati.

Thanks to his clean living, and quiet, dignified approach, the moment of the lunar landing was never marred by tabloid filth. Instead, it stands today as fresh and magnificent as it did on the 21st of July 1969. This is the legacy that Neil left to humanity, a small step that will continue to inspire scientists to make great leaps for generations to come.

God speed Neil Armstrong. You went in peace for all mankind, and left your footprints in the sands of time.

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