The net is abuzz with news that Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the Moon, has passed away after what appeared to be complications from heart surgery. He was 82.
Perhaps it sounds silly to some, but I teared up after seeing this on Twitter and realizing it wasn’t a hoax. It’s hard to explain, but Neil Armstrong is one of those people you can’t help but look up to. A person who did something no other human being had ever done before. He fulfilled the dreams of writers and scientists and people sitting around in their living rooms watching black-and-white scifi TV shows. July 20th, 1969 will forever be a reminder of his achievements, and the achievements of his fellow astronauts, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins.
Like a lot of people, he was, in no small way, an inspiration for me when I was a child — if not directly, then by proxy. I remember watching a live broadcast of a shuttle liftoff as a kid and thinking to myself, “That might be me one day.” There’s something powerful about that kind of reaction, of believing you can do something — that you should do something. Health conditions made sure I would never be an astronaut, but the world Armstrong created by putting his feet into the fine dust of the Moon was one that made me long to go up there and carve out a piece of history for myself, however small. Perhaps that explains my obsession with space, and not just science fiction. It explains my desperate desire to go up there one day, even if only for a few moments. To feel space in my own way. To feel like I’m a part of some grander human experience. Armstrong made all of that possible.
And in a weird way, I thought he would always be here. I know that’s insane, since we all must die. He was 82, after all; he lived a lot of years. But he was supposed to be there like some kind of great father, to watch over us as we journeyed further and further out there, to be there for us with all his wisdom. The world does not feel right without him — cannot feel right. There’s an emptiness now. We’ve lost a human being who meant so much to so many. A man who took us where no humans had ever been before, who uttered a line that will echo throughout history forever: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
You will have a special place in our hearts, Mr. Armstrong. One day, when some human being puts his or her feet on some distant rock, like Mars or maybe a planet around another star, they will think of you, your words, and what you meant to the world and mankind. And maybe they too will bask in the glory that you began all those years ago.
Sleep well, hero.