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Neil Armstrong: to stardust you shall return

Neil Armstrong: to stardust you shall return

MoonRock.jpegOver the weekend many mourned the death of Neil Armstrong, the first human from Earth to walk on the moon. The National Cathedral in Washington DC posted a photo of the “space window” – a stained glass window that contains a moon rock:

As we mourn the passing of Neil Armstrong from our midst, we are comforted that he and all the astronauts of Apollo 11 will always have an enduring memorial in the Space Window at the National Cathedral. Day by day the window’s tiny sliver of lunar rock reminds us of the full breadth of American achievement and of human potential. We thank God for Armstrong and all those who, taking great risk to make small steps, advance humankind each day.

Ian Crouch, writing in The New Yorker memorializes Armstrong’s voice:

Neil Armstrong who died on Saturday, at the age of 82, was by all accounts a reticent man, yet he said many things on July 20, 1969, that have entered into the public consciousness—lingering in the minds of those who heard them on the radio and television, and living, for those born long after he first stepped out onto the surface of the moon that day, in a place of envy and awe. When the lunar module, named the Eagle, touched down, following moments of radio silence that terrified the folks back in mission control, he relayed: “Houston: Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

Of course, after adding his voice to the annals of quoted history, he kept talking, just as his exploration was just beginning. It is here, after the momentous aphorism, that we get the picture of the real Neil Armstrong, then a thirty-eight-year-old man from Ohio who, though he excelled in the often swagger-rich fields of combat missions in Korea, test-piloting rocket planes, and commanding spacecraft, was above all a quiet professional, who would describe himself later simply as an earnest engineer. He was eager to perform his mission, ace his required tasks, and get a closer look at how the moon worked. He was not the explorer perched on the prow of a ship, staring dreamily at the horizon, but someone with his feet on the ground (in this case, fixed rather tenuously to that ground in one-sixth gravity). He spoke to the world:

This is very interesting. It’s a very soft surface, but here and there where I plug with the contingency sample collector, I run into a very hard surface, but it appears to be very cohesive material of the same sort. I’ll try to get a rock in here. Here’s a couple.

A statement from Armstrong’s family, announcing his death, ended with a request:

For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.

For more on those who went to the moon, Steven Shapin, writing in The London Review of Books (2005) looks at the book, Moondust: In Search of the Men Who Fell to Earth


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