Living in this current age, we have the bittersweet experience of seeing many modern historical figures pass on. The technological, global age post World War Two developed quickly, and led to many individuals making a big mark on the last fifty years, and so what we witnessed on the news this weekend is not uncommon (think Michael Jackson, Seve Ballesteros and Steve Jobs).
But something makes the passing of Neil Armstrong, aged 82, that bit different. Many obituaries have called him the “reluctant hero”, and yet the significance of his work outweighs those previously mentioned (in my opinion, anyway). Although you could argue that MJ or Seve were individuals, whereas Neil Armstrong and Steve Jobs were part of a much bigger team, the contribution in itself is greater.
In the summer term each year I teach a lesson with Year 9 looking at whether the Apollo 11 landing actually happened. It’s always fun to teach a conspiracy theory and watch how different students react to the controversy. But there’s a part of me that feels as if this does the Moon Landing an injustice. There may be controversy surrounding the events,(and perhaps easier to teach), but the significance of the event surely demands more than mere suspicion.
Reading the obituaries written this week, one noted that the Apollo 11 mission was one of the few times that mankind “reached beyond their grasp”. I really like the sentiment of that idea, especially when you look at the pictures of the spacesuits used, or the details of the craft. In this 21st century society, it looks rather quaint, as if it’s a half brained idea that could only go wrong. And yet it worked. The pictures taken, and the description of the view of Planet Earth given by Armstrong, Aldrin & Collins are truly amazing- despite the intensity of an astronaut’s job, you have to envy them for the scenery!
It is hard not to like Neil Armstrong though, for his humility and continued focus on what he was passionate about. He knew he was a part of something truly special, but he was more interested in how it advanced science and space exploration than what it would do for his future career. He shied away from the limelight, preferring for the focus to be on NASA and their developments rather than his own involvement. The only time he used his position was to campaign against a reduction of government funding into space exploration.
We also live in an age which is full of celebrities- celebrities who are the very antithesis of Neil Armstrong, who are 100% in their business simply to further themselves. Many are celebrities for no other reason than that they want to be. Why the public endorse these people is beyond me. Neil Armstrong will be missed for what he did, missed for who he was, and missed for who he wasn’t. My thoughts are with his family.