August 25, 2012

∴ Where No Man Had Gone Before

Young Neil Armstrong

I remember seeing his fuzzy image, very late at night and on a small television, against a washed-out background. I recall my mom telling me, “this is history.” I can hear his voice, shortly after he stepped off human engineering onto a planet-like body not our own. It was a lot to take in for a four-year old, but I made some small sense of it that night.

I’d look up at the Moon for the rest of the week and think, there’s a man up there. I didn’t have much of a grasp as to where up there might be, but I knew it was far away and somehow, a man was walking around there, because I had seen him do it more than once on TV by then.

Neil Armstrong has died, and that’s a shame, and I’m saddened by his passing.

But forty-three years later I’m still inspired by his audacity, and that of his two fellow travelers, and the thousands of scientists and engineers who conspired to fly from Earth to the Moon, land, experiment and return. And I know now just how far up there is, and what it took to get there in an age of propeller-powered aircraft and carburated automobile engines and computers the size of a large room. I’m still in awe.

Last week another team conspired to send a spacecraft beyond the Moon, to Mars, to fly alone through the void for eight months, enter another world’s atmosphere and enact a scene from science fiction: their creation autonomously flew a rocket-powered sky crane that lowered a wheeled science platform to the Martian surface, gently laid it down, and began our next great adventure. I am again in awe.

There’s no man up there today. There is, however, a science-laden rover exploring Mars, extending our reach and our knowledge so that someday men and women will walk up there, and erect a memorial at Bradbury Landing.

Armstrong dared greatly. What a great legacy he left behind. How great that he lived long enough to see Curiosity land itself on Mars. When humans land there, and they will, the site should be named Armstrong Landing.