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In our view / Neil Armstrong


For the humble moon man

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He made the solar system a little smaller when, on July 20, 1969, he brought the moon to his feet as the commander of Apollo 11.
He managed to broaden our horizons in literal ways, as he showed that this too was possible: to walk on a place where there was no hope of breathing anything but artificial air, and where there was no life except for that which was sent in a rocket ship.
But first, he was born, on Aug. 15, 1930, in the depths of the Great Depression, near the Midwestern town of Wapakoneta, Ohio, which today has a population of 9,843 and a museum of air and space named in his honor.
He went to Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., to study aeronautical engineering, starting college the same autumn that Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier, arguably beginning the space race.
He took a break from academia to fight in the Korean War, where he piloted 78 combat missions and safely ejected from one, exposing his singular cool.
He returned to school, earned his degree, married and moved to California's Mojave Desert, where he accomplished more death-defying feats as a test pilot for some of the world's most dangerous aircraft.
He became an astronaut, first reaching space aboard the Gemini 8 in 1966, and later surviving another ejection, this time aboard a training vehicle that was 200 feet from the ground.
He made it to the moon, where his first steps were watched by an estimated 600 million people, about one-sixth of Earth's entire population.
He uttered one of the most famous phrases in the English language -- "One small step..." -- and then turned his back on fame, avoiding celebrity to the point where his face would have been hard to recognize should he sit next to you on an airplane.
He lived with some guilt, knowing he was famous for an accomplishment that was made possible by the work of thousands.
In avoiding fame, in feeling guilt, he inadvertently emphasized that he truly was one among billions, for who else could accomplish such a potentially hubristic feat, and then only shuffle his feet and say with genuine honesty, shucks, he really couldn't have done it alone?
He truly was a Midwesterner.
He moved back to Ohio, occasionally emerging to accept an honor or give an interview, saying in 2000 he always will be "a white-sock, pocket-protector, nerdy engineer."
And then he died this past Saturday, in a rare August when, fittingly, there are two full moons, one at the month's beginning, one at its end.
He was 82.
So here's to Neil Armstrong, a space pioneer and an American. He will be missed, but most of all, he will be remembered.
Story tags » CelebritiesScience (general)Space programs

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