Millennium Post

The authentic moonwalker

His is easily one of the most remembered feats in modern human history. Neil Armstrong, the pilot par excellence who was then trained to be an US astronaut and went as commander of the mission to the moon on Apollo 11, set the first foot on moon on 20 July, 1969. He was the first to land from amongst the astronauts. The others who made up the mission were Edwin Aldrin and Michael Collins, with the last remaining in lunar orbit.  Armstrong’s famous quote on landing: ‘That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind’ became not just one of the quoted lines in recent history but also one which has encapsulated the achievements of humanity and their pursuit of the unknown. His death on Saturday at the age of 82, hence, is not just about the closure of a life well lived and one which had, literally, touched cosmic levels, but also one in which the achievements of mankind in extending its own frontiers are forever marked. But Armstrong’s achievements were also political. His landing on moon marked a landmark victory in the annals of the Cold War one-upmanship between the US and the then Soviet Union. Since the USSR had set the first feet in space with Yuri Gagarin in 1961, the US had to send a man to the moon before the Soviets did. And Armstrong’s team of Apollo 11 did fulfill that very quintessential American dream. Perhaps this factor is more than echoed in US President Barack Obama’s tribute when he called Neil ‘among the greatest of American heroes – not just of his time, but of all time. …’ Why, one may ask, was he just an American hero or Gagarin just a Soviet achiever? If at all, they are heroes of humanity and will remain so.

Historians have repeatedly debated how the Cold War race for superiority had aided the scientific world. And Armstrong, the very private man he was to become next, and then an academic, was one who was used in this race, though not much to his liking. Perhaps having realized that he would be only a Cold War hero to a large part of the US establishment, he said in an interview late in his life that he was waiting for the day someone goes and rubs his footsteps off the surface of moon. That may not happen but perhaps the best way to remember this man is the way his family wants to: ‘The next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink’. This may be the only way to keep this man’s incredible feat away from the cold dust of geopolitics. Neil Armstrong, RIP.
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