On July 20, 1969, long before Facebook and Twitter, astronaut Neil Armstrong was friended and followed by an estimated 600 million people — 1 out of every 5 on the blue and white planet.
That was the day he walked on the moon, the day much of Earth sat glued to grainy black-and-white television screens and watched the United States win the last leg of a peaceful arms race in space, the day American ingenuity made the nation’s Sputnik moment of a decade earlier pay off.
Armstrong died Saturday at age 82. He lived a life of quiet dignity in suburban Cincinnati, avoiding the spotlight and the temptation of braggadocio. Yet it is important at his passing that the spotlight shine on his achievements and that the country remember what it was like to be the best in science and learning and exploration.
Because it’s been a long time, and federal policy decisions could make it a lot longer.
Armstrong joined more than two dozen Apollo-era veterans in 2010 to criticize the Obama administration’s space policy that slashed NASA’s budget and abandoned the moon-centric Constellation program. The man who uttered the famous “one giant leap for mankind” lived long enough to see his country surrender the final frontier to China, Russia and private spaceship companies. He criticized the “misguided proposal that forces NASA out of human space operations for the foreseeable future.”
So it is with more than a little wistfulness that Earth says goodbye to Neil Armstrong, a man who proclaimed himself “a white socks, pocket protector, nerdy engineer” on the inside, but on the outside, to a nation and the world, had “the right stuff” as a Navy fighter pilot, a test pilot for NASA’s forerunner, the pilot of the X-15 rocket plane, engineer of the first space docking during the Gemini 8 mission.
And the first man to walk on a natural satellite that is not Earth.
It’s Earth that needs more Neil Armstrongs. And more leaders who understand their critical role in society and civilization.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.