Rest well, Neil Armstrong

Neil Armstrong

Neil Armstrong, the first man on the Moon

I don’t quite know how to describe my feelings. A few minutes ago, NBC Nightly News tweeted: ‘#BREAKING: Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, has died at age 82, NBC News has learned‘, and then: ‘#BREAKING: More on the death of Neil Armstrong: he passed away at 2:45pm ET; suffered complications following heart surgery‘. And for the first time I realised that I had tacitly assumed he was immortal. Like landing on the Moon had somehow made him so. Because he defined an era and changed the world – changed forever the feats that human beings had shown they could achieve. Walked on another world, and spoken to us from there.

It’s not lost on me that I got this news near-instantaneously via a sort of communication that couldn’t even have been dreamed of at the time. Yet it is not the Internet and Twitter that are the stuff of science fiction, now; walking on the Moon is. Only a short time ago NASA’s Curiosity landed on Mars and started sending back startling images, and we all felt somehow stirred to discover the wit and humanity of the people who did this as we watched them hugging each other, became obsessed with one man’s hair, and started following Curiosity’s endearingly first-person Twitter feed. But we’ve stopped reaching out there ourselves. Even as commercial space flight becomes a possibility, I find myself wondering if we will see people working on other worlds again within my life time.

With the death of Neil Armstrong I can’t help but feel that an age has passed. Like the Space Age was something we could pretend was still going on as long as he was alive, but now we must concede that this has become an Inner-Space Age, where we explore each other’s inner feelings by spilling them out electronically around the world, and hold back from leaving the world ourselves.

But maybe it doesn’t have to be like that. Maybe we can stop pointing to Neil, now, and saying ‘Look! See? Men have walked on the Moon!’. Maybe we can stop pinning our imagination on dreams of the past and start thinking about going there ourselves. I used to be such a big sci-fi nut. I loved space and everything about it. But more and more I’ve found myself turning to fantasy. I think maybe because I realised that I would never walk on strange new worlds – that no one in my time, at least, would meet new civilisations. That we had stopped going, boldly or otherwise, beyond the bounds of our Earth. And a certain sort of novel started to feel more of sadness than of joy.

So, rest well, Neil. You did something few men could claim to, and fewer women. The world changed today. It became a little colder, a little smaller. But I am still moved by the dream you embodied for us these 43 years. I hope we can restore it to life again in your memory.

4 thoughts on “Rest well, Neil Armstrong

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