Remembering Neil Armstrong
August 31, 2012. Today the world says farewell to Neil Armstrong, a true but humble hero, not only for America, but for millions around the globe. His courage, professionalism, modesty and dedication to achieving one’s dreams inspired a generation, and continues to do so today. To paraphrase the words of a famous, fictional space hero, he “boldly went where no man had gone before.” And in doing so, he changed the world in which we live.
Of course, Neil Armstrong would be the first to say that he was no hero. He was just an American pilot, doing his job and serving his country. He would point out that the Apollo 11 mission which he commanded was the work of thousands and thousands of dedicated individuals, and that each one was just as important for mission success as were he and his fellow astronauts, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. His “small step for man, giant leap for mankind” was a team effort and the culmination of a long, slow, meticulous and sometime painful and tragic process, of which he was but one small part. And it was the beginning of a new age of exploration, one that we are only still just tentatively embarking upon.
In light of Commander Armstrong’s passing, it was very fitting that yesterday, August 30, I found myself sitting in the auditorium of the International Space University in Strasbourg, attending the graduation ceremony for the University’s Class of 2012 Masters Degree students. At the same time, the University welcomed its incoming Class of 2013. The remarkable men and women of the Class of 2012 come from five continents and 27 countries, from many different cultures, backgrounds, and walks of life. One thing that unites them all are their dreams and desires to be a part of humankind’s continuing exploration of space. As the members of the incoming Class of 2013 introduced themselves, I was struck by the diversity not only of their backgrounds, but also of their interests. And it occurred to me that space is not just a place for engineers or astrophysicists; it is a place for everyone. As we embark on further exploration and expand the envelope within which we live away from Earth, we will create new cultures and new civilizations which will have a need and a place for everyone.
The exploration of space did not end with Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon. Nor did it end with the retirement of the Space Shuttle program. Every day, astronauts and cosmonauts orbit above us, working on the International Space Station. And the recent landing on Mars of the Curiosity Mars Rover is a dramatic example of the important and pioneering work still being done in the field of space exploration, as are the newly developing commercial enterprises which seek to make space travel more accessible and routine. The space exploration industry is alive and well! To those of you who dream of the future, and who dream of space, I urge you to consider visiting ISU’s website at www.isunet.edu to learn more about their programs and opportunities.
As Neil Armstrong’s family has requested, the next time you look at the moon, think for a minute of him. But think, too, of all the thousands and thousands of others from all around the world who have worked to make the exploration of space a reality. And think about what space might hold for your future, and the role you can play. This will be Neil Armstrong’s greatest and most enduring legacy.