Saturday, August 25, 2012

Godspeed, Neil Armstrong

Neal Armstrong, commander of Apollo 11, the first human being ever to walk on the moon, died today. The Eagle touched down on the lunar surface July 20, 1969. I was born September 16, 1969. I've never known a world where humans haven't set foot on another world.

I never met Neil Armstrong. For someone who is a complete stranger to me, his death has thrown me into a kind of numb melancholy. I've met Buzz Aldrin, who has become one of NASA's greatest ambassadors after overcoming clinical depression. I've read several of Michael Collins' books, including the sublime Carrying the Fire. I've met other astronauts over the years, such as the late Dick Scobee, and even interviewed Bill Anders regarding a funny anecdote for my Chicken Ranch book. I live in the same town as Charlie Duke, and driven past his house many times. But Armstrong is the man who inspired my early dreams of becoming an astronaut, and my love of astronomy and space exploration that he engendered prompted me to become a science fiction writer after it became clear the whole flying rockets into space thing wasn't going to work out for me. You see, in addition to commanding Apollo 11 and walking on the moon (which was the coolest thing ever!) he also piloted the astounding X-15 rocket plane into sub-orbital space seven times, earning his astronaut wings before he ever joined NASA (which was the second coolest thing ever!).

This summer, the family made another of our patented, cross-country family vacation road trips (which reminds me--I haven't properly chronicled the misadventures via blog yet. My bad). We went to Florida this year, and one of our stops was the John F. Kennedy Space Center on Cape Canaveral. Even having visited the Johnson Space Center as many times in Houston as I have, I must admit Kennedy gave me many, many instances of squee! One of the most affecting moments, however, came when I discovered the hand casts of the Apollo 11 crew, in the image above. Aldrin's hands look rough and rugged, like an engineer's. Collins' hands seemed almost archetypical, Everyman's hands. Armstrong's though, I found arresting. They reminded me a lot of my grandfather's hands, although they didn't necessarily look all that much like my grandfather's hands, if that makes any sense. They had a sense of age about them, like they carried the weight of an entire species. Silly, I know, but still, the simple plaster display struck me as profoundly intimate.

Godspeed, Neil Armstrong. You inspired me, and hopefully I'll do some good in this life because of it.

Now Playing: Crowded House Together Alone
Chicken Ranch Central

No comments:

Post a Comment