Neil Armstrong, the popular American Astronaut who will always be remembered for his memorable words upon being the first human to land on the moon, died today. He was 82.
According to a statement issued by his family, Neil died on Saturday, August 25th, from complications of a cardiovascular surgery. Forty-three years ago, Armstrong commanded the Apollo 11 spacecraft that landed on the moon on July 20, 1969. His first words after setting foot on the moon’s surface are etched in history books and the memories of those who heard them in a live broadcast.
“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” Mr. Armstrong said.
Neil Armstrong and Edwin (Buzz) Aldrin, walked on the lunar surface for nearly three hours, collecting samples, conducting experiments and taking photographs. This moonwalk marked America’s victory in the Cold War space race that began in 1957, with the launching of the Soviet Union’s Sputnik 1, the first human vessel to leave earth’s atmosphere.
Although he had been a Navy fighter pilot, a test pilot for NASA, and an astronaut, Armstrong never allowed himself to become a celebrity. “I am, and ever will be, a white socks, pocket protector, nerdy engineer,” he said 12 years ago in a rare public appearance. “And I take a substantial amount of pride in the accomplishments of my profession.”
Armstrong went public again two years ago with his concerns about President Obama’s space policy that emphasized private companies developing spaceships. He testified before Congress, and in an e-mail to the Associated Press, that he had “substantial reservations.” Two dozen Apollo-era veterans and him signed a letter calling the plan a “misguided proposal that forces NASA out of human space operations for the foreseeable future.”
For the second half of his life, Neil Armstrong retreated to the quiet of the classroom and his southwest Ohio farm, near Cincinnatti. He also served as a chairman for Computing Technologies for Aviation, a company in Charlottesville, Va., that supplies computer systems for business aircraft, and chairman of AIL Systems Inc., an electronic systems company in Deer Park, N.Y.
Whether Armstrong is a great man with an unimportant nostalgia for a time when government was the most appropriate institution to fund space research, or whether Neil is right that we lose something when we collectively subsidize SpaceX without being able to collectively share in all the benefits, remains to be seen. Certainly, NASA’s history of investment in basic research has given the world many valuable products and services, such as x-ray imaging and improved weather predicting.
Regardless, of what you may think of Armstrong’s political concerns, today we can all celebrate this great American’s life, as we mourn his passing.
“One last step for a man, one giant loss for mankind”