I was sad to hear of Neil Armstrong's untimely passing. He died on Saturday, from complications relating to surgery he had back on August 7th to correct blocked coronary arteries. That was just two days after he was in attendance at Jet Propulsion Laboratories to witness the landing of the Mars Curiosity rover.
I missed watching Neil's walk on the Moon by a few months and I wasn't able to fully appreciate that accomplishment until several years later — when I was old enough to understand exactly what the moon was, and who Neil was, and how challenging it was to get him there.
I'm sure that being raised in the wake of that historic event definitely shaped me and my interests, though. For as long as I can remember, I've been interested in space and astronomy, and I love science fiction. When a friend asked me, years ago, what one thing I would like to do before I die, my answer was "Walk on the surface of another planet." I wouldn't have to be the first person to do so, but given the opportunity to follow Neil's example, I'd like to think that I wouldn't shy away from that opportunity.
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Over the years, there have been a few myths floating around about the man. Stories of spotting UFOs on the mission, filming the entire lunar landing on Earth, being the first to walk on the Moon either because the White House wanted a civilian to do it or because he 'pulled rank' on Buzz Aldrin, and about mistakenly leaving out an important syllable in his famous line.
The facts are that he was a humble man and a reluctant hero. He resisted overtures from political figures who wished to take advantage of his fame. When he resigned from NASA to teach aerospace engineering, he chose the University of Cincinnati's small department over much more prestigious schools, because he hoped to avoid resentment from his fellow faculty members because he only had a masters degree. He avoided capitalizing on his fame, and stopped signing autographs after learning that his signed items, including many forgeries, were selling for large amounts of money on the collectors' market.
Every account I've heard about him told of a respectful, dignified man who was very down-to-earth, regardless of his accomplishments.
By taking his one small step, Neil showed the world that we can accomplish great things, and every accomplishment in space exploration since then can easily be counted as part of his legacy. I hope that where we go and what we do from here will make him proud.