Sunday, 26 August 2012

The Man on the Moon

Throughout history Man has always stared at the night skies and watched the stars.  Before I was born a man became the first to actually touch another world.

Usually deaths of celebrities and the famous don't really register with me.  You mourn the loss of talent and remember the bodies of work of comedians, musicians, actors and the like but it's an intangible thing.  You never knew them so have little real reason to grieve other than empathy and compassion.

To me this situation has changed with the passing of Neil Armstrong.  Not because I knew him or had any personal connection but because of the idea of him, the ideas and sheer goodness of mankind that he represented.  The Moon landings were the culmination of the 1960s' Space Race.  Of course it was a political and military driven stunt but it still remains the most glorious achievement of Man.  In his short life he stepped on another world and touched the stars.

When Eagle touched down on the Moon and Armstrong first stepped on lunar soil it was the culmination of unbridled ambition and determination.  It showed what we, as a species, could truly be capable of.  JFK promised a man on the Moon by the end of his decade and despite him not seeing it his promise was realised.  What could happen now if Obama promised to cure cancer within ten years with the same amount of drive and ambition?  There are many serious problems here on Earth; climate change, overpopulation and dwindling resources, who's to say that the solutions for these can't be found 'out there'?  It's been forty years since Man last set foot on the Moon and now we make do with buggies and robots sometimes landing on Mars.  We should reach further, push ourselves to discover.  Perhaps putting a man on Mars or even back on the Moon will help us solve some of our Earthly problems.

Armstrong passing makes us all feel our mortality.  Whether he liked it or not, he was a hero for people all over the world, an inspiration for all the children of the 60s and afterwards.  Do you really think that no one who saw the Moon landings in fuzzy black and white didn't come away wanting to change the world?  Armstrong seems to me as an unassuming man who worked hard for his country and despite all  the craziness concentrated on what he knew; aviation and engineering.  He began working for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), a pre NASA body, in the 1950s.  The 1950s when half the world was recovering from World War Two and Armstrong is looking to Space.

It's hard to comprehend that in 1962 he was given astronaut status and four years later commanded Gemini 8 as it nearly disastrously docked with a glorified missile in Space.  Three years after that, in 1969, and he's on the Moon looking down on all of us.

I've read and heard the stories and memories of bleary eyed kids being sat in front on tiny TVs to watch Armstrong's moment of history unfold.  I'll admit it. I'm jealous.  I might have another 50 years left and I know that I'll never witness anything that will come close to that.  The Twin Towers or the Lost finale don't compare.

It was 50/50 whether or not Apollo 11 would actually succeed and see it's Eagle module touch down and we should all be glad it did.  Whilst the promise of the Moon landings has largely evaporated over the last forty years they still stand as testament to what Mankind is capable of, especially the 'a white-socks, pocket-protector, nerdy engineer' that Armstrong saw himself as.  It proves that we should all look to future, avoid the short term and dare to chase our dreams.

The next time I see the Moon I will 'think of Neil and give him a wink' like the Armstrong family suggests.