Today, Neil Armstrong, first man to walk on the Moon, passed away at the age of 82. And, it is difficult to describe how the world seems a bit different.
I remember watching the first steps on the Moon, in grainy black and white, from our living room in Point Edward, NS. It seemed momentous and unbelievable at the same time. I watched the space program from its beginning and the rate of achievements was incredible. From Yuri Gagarin’s first flight (which was not presented as a momentous occasion) and Alan Sheppard’s first suborbital flight (which was presented as momentous) in 1961 to actually landing on the Moon in 1969 seemed like progress had no bounds. That the program would be cut a few years later seemed impossible at the time.
Today, we often see the process of putting man in space in light of the Shuttle program: often compared to riding a bus. The fact that two were lost didn’t seem to change that for any length of time. Computers take off, fly and land commercial airliners and control so many aspects of our lives.
But in those days, given the level of technology at the time and the fact that much of what was being done on each mission was done for the first time, little was available for testing many of the processes involved in each mission. Flying to the Moon at the time was often done on the old pilot’s adage of flying “on a wing and a prayer,” like the days of wooden ships and iron men sailing towards a strange horizon. And, given the level of experience of each of those mission crews, the level of risk in untested, untried vehicles in a harsh environment was known. Despite this, they went anyway and history was made.
Neil Armstrong is gone and the world is something less for it. One less hero is left. And, there aren’t really many potential heroes to replace him available…