All too often these days the labels “hero” and “legend” are bandied about far too cheaply. A footballer is labelled a hero for scoring a last minute goal for his team, thus getting them promoted, winning them a cup or saving them from relegation, or a rock star is called a legend for being around since 1980. These people may be legends and heroes within their own field – and I am both a football fan and a rock music fan – but, when it comes down to real heroism and real legendary status they have nothing on people who make history, who have risked their lives in the advancement of exploration and science.
Neil Armstrong, who died on 25th August 2012 at the age of 82, was one such person. He and his fellow Apollo 11 astronauts, Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin and Michael Collins, flew to the Moon, not knowing whether they could land there and, if they did succeed in landing the lunar module, whether they would be able to take off again – and failure to do so would have certainly resulted in their deaths. Not only did they succeed, they made history and Armstrong and Aldrin remain two of only twelve people to have walked on the surface of another world.
The Apollo missions, the last of which, Apollo 17, landed in the Pacific on 19th December 1972, showed the best side of the human race, and what we could do as a species when we put our minds to the more noble things, such as science and exploration, rather than trying to kill each other and other species. Without wanting to delve too much into politics and suchlike, it is a huge shame and a terrible waste, bordering on criminal, that the human race didn’t press on, establishing a Moon base and going on to Mars and the rest of the Solar System from there. Instead, the Americans, knowing they’d beaten the Soviet Union to putting a person on the Moon, did a ‘dog peeing on a lamp-post’ trick by leaving a flag, some footprints and bits of lander and left, never to return. If only serious money went into countries’ space exploration programmes rather than into defence budgets…
I don’t have many personal heroes, and the Apollo 11 mission occurred 6 months before I was born, but Neil Armstrong and his astronaut colleagues are among them. They are people to be proud of, unlike the fake ‘celebrities’ who are lauded these days. One UK newspaper website, on the Saturday evening Armstrong’s death was announced, featured an item about it alongside an item on Manchester Utd footballer Wayne Rooney’s (admittedly nasty) leg injury…I don’t think that Rooney deserves to be on the same page as Armstrong, let alone sharing headline space with him. In these times of fake heroes, dubious ‘celebrities’ and thieving politicians, people such as Armstrong should be celebrated and held up as a prime example of what we, as a species, are capable of…these are the people kids should look up to, not royalty, not models, not vacuous non-entities famous only for sleeping with footballers, rapping badly or kicking a ball.
Neil Armstrong was an American – and the Americans are lucky to have had such a wonderful space program – but he and his astronaut colleagues went to the Moon on behalf of us all – ‘For All Mankind’. RIP Neil Armstrong, a real hero and genuine legend.
“The next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink” – Neil Armstrong’s family