Neil Armstrong & Mankind’s Greatest Step

Joseph Campbell once wrote that “we must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.” If the life of Neil Armstrong, who passed away on August 25 at the age of 82, is any indication, the life that awaits the astronaut and legend will be nothing short of remarkable.

In an end perfectly designed by the Fates, Neil Armstrong departed just one month after another memorable colleague, Sally Ride, did the same. Between the two, a dynasty of American aeronautics and space exploration had been created, and with their passing the world awaits another phase—one that can only be facilitated by the work completed by the pair. For Ride, the first American woman to orbit Earth, the legacy created was in striking down what was culturally normal at the time and providing women and girls with a role model for the sciences.

Armstrong, on the other hand, was the hero envisioned by writers of old, almost; although he never led an army into war or was known for his physical prowess, his image is one that will forever be engrained in American culture—in much of the same King Arthur and the great warrior Achilles were in theirs. G.Roger Denson, in an article for the Huffington post, describes how both Ride and Armstrong, although not the typical celebrity, are the embodiment of modern day heroes:

“Despite both having achieved monumental ‘firsts’ as astronauts—Armstrong as the first to set foot on the Moon, Ride as the first woman to orbit the earth—there is a fundamental difference to be found between them in that Armstrong represented the classical mythic hero upholding a time-honored social order, while Ride embodied the mythopoetic hero who heralds the transition to a new age and social order, a change signaling that a censorial social order that once define a former age has now become obsolete.”

With “one small step” in 1969, Armstrong launched himself into history and into the dreams of children everywhere.

When John F. Kennedy committed America to “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth,” Armstrong was a 30-year-old test pilot for NASA, a new government agency at the time. With experience flying 78 missions in the Korean War, Armstrong became the last of a group of astronauts selected to take part in NASA’s manned-aircraft missions. He would go on to be a large part of both the Gemini and Apollo missions.

On July 21, 1969, Armstrong took his (and the world’s) first step on the surface of the moon and forever cemented himself in history. For over two hours, videos captured him and Buzz Aldrin working on the moon’s surface—gatherings samples, taking pictures, and setting up experiments. Because Armstrong was the only one of the pair to carry a camera, many of the pictures from the moon were taken by Armstrong and not of him. Which is actually quite fitting.

Despite a volume of accomplishments, Armstrong was not one to boast. Preferring a life out of the lime-light, Armstrong kept to himself for the most part, interviews and television appearances kept at a minimal. Simply put, he let his achievements do the talking. According to Campbell, “A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself”—Armstrong, then, will forever be a hero.


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