Man on the moon

Neil Armstrong’s death a reminder of that epochal event

Those of us who were old enough on July 20, 1969, to appreciate the first moon landing share an unforgettable memory of looking up at the moon and marveling that, at that very moment, two human beings were walking upon it.

The Apollo 11 mission was an amazing event, humankind’s first venture to another celestial body. It’s worthy of inclusion among history’s great journeys into the unknown, those of Columbus and Cook, Magellan and Marco Polo, Lewis and Clark.

The death Saturday, Aug. 25, of the leader of that expedition and the first man to walk on the moon, Neil Armstrong, brought back vivid memories of that night. And it reminded us once again of what an epochal moment it was.

Armstrong was a modest, self-effacing man who refused to capitalize on his accomplishment, but it’s worth noting that well before his moon voyage he was known as one of America’s finest test pilots. His second-in-command on that journey, Buzz Aldrin, called him “the best pilot I ever knew,” no small praise from another top gun.

It took such skills, and nerves of steel, to land a lunar module for the first time knowing that the only way home was to reconnect that module to a moon-orbiting space ship. As the Apollo 13 mission showed, disastrously, just a year later, so many things could go wrong.

Today only eight men are alive who know what Armstrong knew—what it’s like to walk on the moon. They’re old and will be gone soon, and then nobody will know, ever again. The best we can do is to imagine—and continue exploring in other ways.