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Sunday, August 26, 2012
Neil Alden Armstrong, 1930-2012
Not breaking news at this point, but I'm sure you've heard that we lost Neil A. Armstrong, the first man to walk on the Moon, to complications following surgery for coronary artery disease. He was just a few weeks past his 82nd birthday.
I have two Apollo-era photographs as part of my "Finest Hour" sidebars. One (right side, below the House campaign links) shows Apollo 11, the flight Armstrong commanded, punching through the sound barrier with a visible puff of mist during launch on July 16, 1969 - the massive Saturn V rocket framed quite nicely with our flag.
The second is an iconic photograph of astronaut Jack Schmitt on the moon, with both the flag and the Earth in the frame, taken nearly 40 years ago in December, 1972. You'd think a "finest hour" would be a picture of Neil Armstrong on the Moon, no?
Well, except for still frames from the motion picture camera mounted inside the lunar module Eagle, or the grainy TV image stills, there are no pictures of Armstrong on the Moon, unlike the well known photo of Buzz Aldrin. The astronauts only had one EVA camera, and he never gave it to Aldrin to take his picture.
But, that was the kind of person Neil Armstrong was. He never sought to exploit his unique position as the "First Man", and for me, that just adds to his stature.
Apollo 11's Command Module Pilot, Michael Collins, said simply: "He was the best, and I will miss him terribly."
When my wife and I were approaching the birth of our son in 2005, there was only one boy's name we really liked, and that was "Neil". Space program fans both of us, we're proud to have named our son for Mr. Armstrong.
Twelve men walked on the Moon. We've lost four of them (James Irwin, Alan Shepard, Charles "Pete" Conrad, and now Neil Armstrong). Eight are still with us: Buzz Aldrin, Alan Bean, Ed Mitchell, Dave Scott, John Young, Charlie Duke, Gene Cernan, and Jack Schmitt (yes, I rattled them off from memory). If you ever need a lesson in what "American Exceptionalism" truly means, those twelve names (eighteen, actually - don't forget the six CMPs who went with them: Collins, Gordon, Roosa, Worden, Mattingly, and Evans) are a great place to start.
As I posted to Facebook and Twitter last night, "Rest in Peace, First Man".