In memory of Neil.
There will only ever be one Neil Armstrong.
Like millions of others on this planet, I was held spellbound by the historic and epic moment of man placing his mark on another heavenly body, the Moon. I had been so wrapped up in NASA’s space missions that I took a holiday from work (I was working at the time for ICIANZ in Sydney, Australia) for the week of July 16th, 1969.
It was, of course, July 16th when the Apollo 11 Mission launched from the Kennedy Space Center culminating at precisely 20:17:39 UTC on July 20, 1969, the moment when the Lunar Module made lunar contact.
But in terms of me writing my own obituary for Neil, what could I offer?
Then a couple of items changed my mind.
The first was reading the obituary printed in The Economist. I have long admired the many, many beautiful obituaries that have been published by this newspaper and this one was no exception. Take this extract from the Neil Armstrong obituary,
He had an engineer’s reserve, mixed with a natural shyness. Even among the other astronauts, not renowned for their excitability, he was known as the “Ice Commander”. Mike Collins, one of his crew-mates on the moon mission, mused that “Neil never transmits anything but the surface layer, and that only sparingly.” He once lost control of an unwieldy contraption nicknamed the Flying Bedstead that was designed to help astronauts train for the lunar landing. Ejecting only seconds before his craft hit the ground and exploded, he dusted himself off and coolly went back to his office for the rest of the day. There was work to be done.
Then the beautiful words that bring the obituary to a close,
Over half a century, the man who never admitted surprise was surprised to observe the fading of America’s space programme. The Apollo project was one of the mightiest achievements of the potent combination of big government and big science, but such enterprises came to seem alien as well as unaffordable. Mr Armstrong, who after his flight imagined bases all over the moon, sadly supposed that the public had lost interest when there was no more cold-war competition.
Yet the flights had one huge unintended consequence: they transformed attitudes towards Earth itself. He too had been astonished to see his own planet, “quite beautiful”, remote and very blue, covered with a white lace of clouds. His reserve, after all, was not limitless. One photograph showed him in the module after he and Buzz Aldrin had completed their moon-walk, kicking and jumping their way across the vast, sandy, silver surface towards the strangely close horizon. He is dressed in his spacesuit, sports a three-day beard, and is clearly exhausted. On his face is a grin of purest exhilaration.
“ … they transformed attitudes towards Earth itself. He too had been astonished to see his own planet, “quite beautiful”, remote and very blue, covered with a white lace of clouds.” For that reason alone, we need to celebrate the achievement of the Apollo 11 mission for putting our own planet into perspective within the enormity of the universe.
The second item that persuaded me to write this was a wonderful historic insight into how a potential catastrophy on the surface of the Moon would have been handled by President Nixon. This historic item was published on Carl Milner’s blog the other day, the specific item being What if the Moon Landing Failed? Republished with the very kind permission of Carl.
When Richard Nixon was the President of the United States, they had a speech ready for him to deliver to the world just in case the 1969 moon landing had ended in disaster. In fact many experts believed there was a big chance that Neil Armstrong and Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin could have really gotten stuck on the moon. It’s something we don’t really think about now because we all know it was such a success. American Archives have unearthed the speech that would have been delivered if the late great Armstrong and Aldrin had never made it back to earth. This is such a great piece of history that I thought I might never see.
Give it a read, It’s such a moving and well prepared speech, and such a good thing that President Nixon never had to delivered it.
So, as with millions of others, I am delighted that this speech remained unspoken and instead we experienced: “At 5:35 p.m. (US EDT), Armstrong and Aldrin successfully docked and rejoined Collins, and at 12:56 a.m. on July 22 Apollo 11 began its journey home, safely splashing down in the Pacific Ocean at 12:50 p.m. on July 24.“
Neil Armstrong’s legacy is not only being part of the wonderful team that allowed man to make the first footprint on the Moon but also bringing into our human consciousness that this blue, wonderful planet we all live on is the only home we have.
Strikes me that celebrating July 20th each year as Blue Planet Day might not be a bad idea! Any takers? Now that would be a legacy for Neil!
Written by Paul Handover
September 4, 2012 at 00:00
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