Daily Archives: August 25, 2012

One Giant Loss for Mankind: Neil Armstrong Dead at 82



Today the United States and the World lost a true hero. Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the Moon died of complications of heart surgery today at the age of 82.

Armstrong was born on August 5th 1930 in Wapakoneta Ohio. He fell in love with flying at an early age and earned his flight certificate when he was just 15 years of age. He became a Naval Aviator at the age of 20 and flew 78 missions over Korea while assigned to VF-51 aboard the USS Essex (CV-9) flying the F9F Panther.  He transferred to the Naval Reserve in August 1952 and returned to Perdue University where he earned a BS in Aeronautical Engineering and the to the University of Southern California where he earned a MS in the same subject. He became a Test Pilot with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics in 1955.

After seven years as a test pilot Armstrong was asked to join the fledgling NASA space program in 1962. He was one of two civilian test pilots to join the program, the other Astronauts were active duty Naval Aviators or Air Force Pilots.

He first flew in space in 1966 as the Command Pilot of Gemini 8 and as Commander of the Apollo 11 flight which made history landing on the Moon on July 20th 1969. I was 9 years old and remember it like it was yesterday. His words on setting foot on the surface of the Moon “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” still echo as one of the most memorable statements in human history.

Armstrong retired from NASA in 1971 but remained active in teaching, business international contact and conferences regarding space travel. He served on NASA accident investigations for Apollo 13 of 1970 and the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986. He remained a proponent of further manned space expeditions and was openly critical of the cancellation of the Ares 1 Launch Vehicle and Constellation Moon Landing program in 2010. He also spoke out in favor of manned missions to Mars even offering his services to command such a mission in 2010 at the age of 80.

The loss of Armstrong is a great loss. He was both a visionary and an explorer.  Our leaders during the great era of the Space Program, from John F Kennedy to Ronald Reagan were visionaries who could unite disparate groups of Americans for common and great goals. One of our great problems today is that our leaders, especially political and business leaders have ceased being visionaries.  Religious leaders are even worse with the most influential promoting ignorance and fear while ignoring or denying science and anything that might challenge faith or more importantly their stranglehold on power. To me such leaders must have an awfully small God in order to promote such ignorance. There seems no vision on either side of the political divide for anything more than what political power and spoils benefits their side.  As a man who comments a lot on this site noted we cannot even accomplish unambitious goals, which have become “pie in the sky dreams.”  Our leaders seem to forget that without vision the people perish. The greatest accomplishment of humankind have been when when men or women reached for more than they could see, when they took risks, dreamed dreams and even in times of war or crisis were willing to believe that better was possible.

We need men and women of  real vision, courage and good will like Armstrong who are willing to make “that giant step.” We need people who actually believe in causes greater than themselves and their interests. We need men and women who are willing, to use the words of Gene Roddenberry “to boldly go where no one has gone before.”

Rest in peace Neil Armstrong.


Padre Steve+


Filed under History, News and current events

One Small Step… Memories of Neil Armstrong and Apollo 11

This is a re-post of an article that I wrote last year. I do it today in memory of Neil Armstrong who died at the age of 82 today. I will have an article about him posted later today. 

I remember it like it was yesterday.  It was the stuff that dreams are made of the stuff that inspires a generation.  A tiny and fragile Lunar Module, the Eagle piloted by Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Bud Aldrin landed on the Moon’s Sea of Tranquility. Within hours the two men had made the first walk on the Moon.  Armstrong made the statement “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”  In orbit above the Moon Astronaut Michael Collins piloted the Command Module ColumbiaIt was the stuff that legends are made of and help point humankind to higher and nobler goals.


Shortly after he became President, John F. Kennedy promised to have a man on the Moon by the end of the decade.  His comments supporting the Apollo mission before a joint session of Congress are quite remarkable especially in light of the state of the technology available at the time.


“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important in the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”

The United States wholeheartedly threw itself into the race for the Moon and though Kennedy, struck dead by an assassin’s bullet nearly six years prior did not live to celebrate the occasion it was something that in a time of war and deep political division united the Nation. It did not matter if one was a conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat the Space Program and in particular the Apollo missions made us glad to be Americans. In the midst of trying times marked by racism and riots, political assassinations, anti-war protests and social unrest.

It was an amazing event which could have ended in disaster but instead helped us as a nation to aspire to higher and nobler goals. The landing on the Moon inspired many to study the sciences and Astronaut camps attended by children furthered that desire.  The invention, innovation and ingenuity sparked by the program helped birth more invention many times providing the basis for devices that are ubiquitous today but unthinkable except possibly to the writers of Star Trek then.

We dreamed and aspired to great things.  We were Americans then.  Now we have become a collection of deeply divided hatred filled special interests.  The last Space Shuttle mission that of the Atlantis will end tomorrow and no one knows what will follow.  But does it matter?

It probably doesn’t matter anymore because we have stopped dreaming or envisioning a hopeful future.  The Moon, Mars and beyond, forget that we need to sacrifice, well everyone but the people that put us in the mess we are in.

What does a space program matter when we are so divided against ourselves?

Our politician’s pundits and preachers of all political leanings and persuasions drive that poisonous wedge deeper every day and many willingly indulge in the “us against them” mentality promoted by those that beg us to listen to the “three hours a day every day.”

That Unholy Trinity of politicians, pundits and preachers seems so bent promoting their ideologies and theologies that they forget that they all have a responsibility to a nation that is greater than their respective faction, special interest and even religious views.  Now we have politicians signing statements written by special interests groups and there are an ever growing number of them, as if they were the Constitution, binding them and their fealty to unelected and unaccountable power brokers who have only their ideology to promote.  To see politicians shamelessly entering into such pacts to win a nomination or primary makes me wonder what they will do if they are elected to the offices that they aspire.

Back in 1969 the country was a mess, but when the Eagle touched down on the Sea of Tranquility we were Americans again.  We took a moment and believed again and we achieved again.  Unfortunately I don’t see anything at the present that will make us so again at least in the near future.  I fear for our country. Maybe it’s just my PTSD “Mad Cow” getting to me; maybe it is the fact that as a historian and theologian I know where the path we are traveling ends.


Padre Steve+



Filed under History