Bye, moonwalker

Neil Armstrong, the original ‘moonwalker’ is no more. Armstrong was mankind’s first emissary to the moon. His historic first words on stepping foot on the moon reflected his humility yet captured so eloquently the historicity of the event. Armstrong fired the imagination and ambitions of an entire generation and more of earthlings.

For America, the 1960s were a tumultuous decade marked by the assassinations of president John Kennedy and his brother Robert Kennedy and the civil rights movement. America’s image abroad was sullied by its bloody military intervention in Vietnam. Armstrong’s step on the moon changed that. It was a defining moment of the last century.

Few of human scientific endeavour thereafter generated the kind of worldwide excitement or pride as did the Apollo-11’s mission to the moon and Armstrong’s historic step. Children from across the continents were named after Armstrong as were schools and scientific programmes. He clearly was a citizen not just of the US but an envoy of the earth. Staring at the night sky and moon-gazing was never the same again after Armstrong stepped foot on the moon.

What set apart Armstrong from other pioneers was his utter humility. Heroes with achievements less dramatic than his have milked their superstardom to the maximum. Not Armstrong. A shy, indeed a reclusive man, he shunned the spotlight and public adulation. He believed that his historic step was not so much a personal achievement as it was the fruits of teamwork. He saw it as the culmination of the work of millions of  people over a decade.

With his death, there are just eight men left who have stepped on the moon. Ironically, his great achievement was not the start of something new. It marked the highpoint of man’s explorations of space and was in fact the beginning of the end of manned missions to the moon. America turned its back on the moon; the costs were simply too high. But other nations, like India and China, stirred by Armstrong’s historic step 43 years ago, have accelerated their own space programmes and will be hoping to produce their own ‘Armstrong moments.’

Armstrong has left behind a lot for us to ponder over. He taught us to go where few humans dared. Above all his life was a lesson in quiet humility. He reminded us that every human success is the achievement not of individuals but of generations, not of individual nations but of humankind.

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