Sunday, August 26, 2012

Remembering Neil Armstrong: an American Legend and Ideal Role Model

Neil Armstrong (1930-2012) in 1969.

Yesterday, the world lost Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on another world, thus achieving the, to this date, greatest feat of exploration in human history. While the tale of Armstrong the astronaut has been told over and over again and needs no repeating, it is the story of Armstrong the man that should serve as the real inspiration to the youth of American today.

From childhood, Neil Armstrong was fascinated with planes, taking his first ride in an airplane at age 6, which would have been in 1936, scarcely a generation after the Wright Brothers made the first heavier than air flight. At the time, aviation was hardly the routine, take it for granted practice that it is today. How much did Armstrong love to fly? So much so that he became a licensed pilot at age 16, which was before he even got his driver's license.

After finishing high school, Armstrong enrolled in college to study aeronautical engineering. However, come 1949, Armstrong was called to military duty with the Navy, where he served as a test pilot and later fighter pilot in the Korean War. In all, Armstrong flew 78 combat missions. After the war, Armstrong returned to college and eventually completed a master's degree, which was quite a rarity for the time. After college, Armstrong returned to the Navy as a test pilot before being selected to NASA's astronaut class of 1962.

During the middle 1960s, America was locked in what appeared to be a losing race to the Moon with the Soviet Union, which had already accomplished three important firsts: first satellite (1957), first man in orbit (1961), and first spacewalk (1965). After 4 years of training, Armstrong was selected to command Gemini 8. During the mission, which launched in March, 1966, Armstrong got America its first big victory in the space race: the successful docking of two space vehicles. However, the mission nearly ended in disaster when a rocket booster misfired late in the mission, with only Armstrong's cool head and flying skills preventing a tragedy.

As for Apollo 11, the tale has been told an almost infinite number of times and needs no repeating, but it is what happened afterward that merits some real attention, especially in today's world of instant celebrities and egocentricity.
Neil Armstrong, along with fellow crew mates Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins returned to Earth as heroes not just to America, but the world. Even the Russians offered congratulations (though probably grudgingly). Now world famous, Neil Armstrong could play his celebrity status to the hilt for personal gain.

He chose not to.

After flying to the Moon, Armstrong retired from spaceflight, staying with NASA until 1971, when he accepted a position as a professor at the University on Cincinatti. Armstrong would stay on there until 1979, when he decided to do something that seemed completely unexpected: return to his roots as a farmer. In the following years, Armstrong kept a low profile, refusing repeated urgings to run for political office and, after learning that signed memorabilia was being sold for profit, he stopped signing autographs altogether (think of how many current celebrities have signed stuff for sale on their websites). Armstrong was also careful with his name and image, refusing repeated offers (and probably handsome payments) from companies wanting to use either, even going so far as to sue when someone went on to ignore his wishes. In victory, Armstrong never kept any of the winnings, preferring to donate to charity instead.

For a life and career that could have served as the inspiration for many books and movies, Armstrong never wrote an autobiography nor signed any movie deals, either. It was only late in life that he finally agreed to work with author James R. Hansen, who wanted to write an Armstrong biography. Needless to say, by refusing such deals, Armstrong left a lot of money on the table, preferring to live the quiet life, instead.

After his death yesterday,
Armstrong's family released a statement that read, in part "[he was a] reluctant American hero [and had] served his nation proudly, as a navy fighter pilot, test pilot, and astronaut. While we mourn the loss of a very good man, we also celebrate his remarkable life and hope that it serves as an example to young people around the world to work hard to make their dreams come true, to be willing to explore and push the limits, and to selflessly serve a cause greater than themselves."

For today's youth, such a concept seems almost foreign. Between self-worth being measured by the number of Facebook friends (and thus attention) one has, the instant celebrities who often do nothing of value yet serve as ideas of how to become famous (thing Kardashians and cast of “Jersey Shore” among others here), the idea that success should come easy (Neil Armstrong had to do a lot more than ace an interview to get to the Moon), and the all-important idea of “me first,” the current college-age and younger generation can learn a lot from Neil Armstrong the man, an American hero who set foot on the Moon yet never let the drive for fame and profit get the better of him.

RIP, Neil, we'll miss you.

For more coverage:
NASA biography

Neil Armstrong tributes
Interview with John Glenn

1 comment:

  1. Excellent blog post on a most amazing and respected individual. The world needs more people like Neil Armstrong...