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Neil Armstrong Dies: He and His Giant Leap Are Eternal

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When I heard Neil Armstrong had died, I could not look up at the moon or even see the stars; it was a bright, sunny day, but I thought about him and the impact he had made on me and so many other kids and grown-ups. An estimated 600 million earthlings watched him take his first step on the moon, and I was one of those souls on this planet who saw it live and will never forget that moment in history.

We were away on vacation in a hotel room. I was a kid and asked my Dad to wake me up when it was going to happen. There was just a small black and white TV screwed into the top of the dresser, but it would have to do. When dad woke me up, I sat up and remember seeing a grainy image of Armstrong, hovering a bit on the ladder of the Lunar Module as he prepared to be the first human being to step onto another world. He then uttered his now iconic line, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” What a giant leap it was then, as that indelible footprint in the lunar surface is there forever and remains inexorably in our minds.

In 1969 I had a fascination with space. TV shows like Star Trek and Lost in Space had stoked my imagination. I had also been a fan of the Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers series, and wasn’t Superman the ultimate space saga, an alien who came to this world and became one of us but was oh so much more too? By the time Apollo 11 lifted off, I had every reason to be excited about it. In my young mind I believed more than anything that we would soon be zooming off to these foreign planets I imagined, with the array of aliens both good and bad to encounter.

Reality eventually catches up to all of us, and even to NASA and the whole quest for space travel. While Armstrong was a hero in every sense of the word, there seemed to be a rapid descent for the voyages to the moon, with the Apollo 13 near-disaster no doubt contributing to that. Trips to the moon ended in the early 1970s, and then the Space Shuttle became the focus, with the goal to build a space station. All of these things took a long, long time, and getting to Mars or anywhere else seemed less and less likely.

Now we await what will be the next giant leap, but no one can ever underestimate the power of Armstrong’s moment in history. His foot touching the dusty surface of the moon was perhaps the biggest step ever taken by a human being. It was more significant than Columbus stepping off his ship in a “new world,” more meaningful than any footfall by any other explorer, because it meant to everyone watching that we were not bound to this world. We were able to find a way to leave this planet, and our statement to whomever was watching (whether it was one of the 600 million on this planet or extra-terrestials viewing it across the cosmos) was this: “We can do it, and we are going to do it again.”

Great moments and great men are remembered fondly. For me 1969 was the kind of year a New York kid could only dream about. The Mets, Jets, and Knicks won championships on the earthly plane, and Neil Armstrong hit his shot heard ’round the world (and the galaxy?) on the moon. After that moment the moon was not just a circle in the sky, it was a tangible place, and the thought of that stiff flag on the windless terrain forevermore always sent a shiver through me. It was not just the moon anymore; it was our moon. No flag placed on foreign soil ever meant so much to so many, for Armstrong did not claim the moon for America but for the entire human race.

So many will mourn Armstrong, but his family has asked that when we look up at the moon, we should think of him and wink. That’s the least any of us could do for this man, but in truth he is now free to visit the moon as often as he likes. Perhaps he will trace his own footprints, gaze at what remains of the fragile lunar module in the windless silence, and salute the still flag. He and his giant leap, a bold, brave, and unforgettable footstep, now transcend time and space for all eternity.

Photo credits: facebook.com

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About Victor Lana

Victor Lana has published numerous stories, articles, and poems in literary magazines and online. His books In a Dark Time (1994), A Death in Prague (2002), Move (2003), The Savage Quiet September Sun: A Collection of 9/11 Stories (2005) and Like a Passing Shadow (2009) are available online and as e-books. He has won the National Arts Club Award for Poetry, but has concentrated mostly on fiction and non-fiction prose in recent years. He has worked as faculty advisor to school literary magazines and enjoys the creative process as a writer, editor, and collaborator. He has been with Blogcritics since July 2005, has edited many articles, was co-head sports editor with Charley Doherty, and now is a Culture and Society editor. He views Blogcritics as one of most exciting, fresh, and meaningful opportunities in his writing life.
  • Anup Shrestha

    Great Coincidence dedicated to Neil Armstrong.

    Although Alien means foreign, unfamiliar, strange etc, generally Alien means some creature belonging to outer space. Similarly, for the outside world we human are Alien. Neil Armstrong was Alien for outside universe who stepped for the first time in moon and outside earth and if we care enough to see the name of Neil Armstrong as NEIL A and read it opposite it becomes A LIEN. It’s a great coincidence (or Gods will) and we need to think thousands of times that why Neil A. was selected to step in the moon in behalf of mankind.

    I dedicate this coincidence to Neil Armstrong, the Alien for outer space.

  • Igor

    I watched the moon landing, as an adult with 3 children, and I quite clearly remember that the first words spoken after touchdown were, as an astronaut looked out the window: “look, there’s a hill over there!”

    Other people confirmed my recollection.

    IMO “Look, there’s a hill over there!” is a far more fitting statement for explorers and pathfinders than that silly PR statement we are always quoted.

    “Look, there’s a hill over there!” must have been spoken many times by Daniel Boone, Jedediah Smith, John C. Fremont, etc., and other explorers.

    You can imagine Boone hiking to the top of a hill, looking around from it’s height and exclaiming “Look, there’s a hill over there!”, because there is no better landmark than the next hill to be surmounted.

    Lewis and Clark, upon reaching the temporary respite of a hilltop in the Rockys or Sierras must have said the same thing.

    So it is with humans. Having reached a rest point we look around for the next summit to be surmounted.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Igor –

    I have to agree with you – it’s hard to think of a more fitting phrase for humanity’s drive to explore.

  • http://www.lunch.com/JSMaresca-Reviews-1-1.html Dr. Joseph S. Maresca

    Here’s what they left behind.

    Image to left: While on the moon Neil and Buzz planted a United States flag and left a sign that read, “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon July 1969, A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.”
    Credit: NASA