Tributes and a lament for lost era
THE DEATH of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, has prompted a bout of soul-searching about America’s national destiny as well as mourning for an icon of the 20th century.
As tributes continued to pour in yesterday for the former astronaut who died at the age of 82 there were also expressions of regret that no human has been back to the moon since 1972, just three years after Armstrong set foot on it and gave his famous “giant leap for mankind” speech.
Elliot Pulham of the Space Foundation decried today’s lack of backing for America’s space agency Nasa, compared with the vast resources devoted to the moon landings programme in the 1960s.
“In this age of timid exploration goals and paltry Nasa budgets, Armstrong looms as a larger-than-life reminder of what our nation was once capable of,” he said.
Pulham said the real-life drama of Armstrong’s moon landing – watched by a fifth of the world’s population – was unlikely to be repeated now, except fictionally in a summer blockbuster.
He said: “In an age when Hollywood and professional sports manufacture so-called ‘heroes’, Armstrong exemplified the right stuff. He was the real deal.”
Armstrong died on Saturday following heart problems that ensued after he underwent bypass surgery near his Ohio home earlier this month. His recovery had been thought to be going well, and his death came as a surprise to many.
A statement released by his family gave few details, but spoke of a “reluctant American hero” and said to those who might want to pay tribute to him: “Honour his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and 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.”
President Barack Obama said the self-declared “nerdy” engineer was “among the greatest of American heroes – not just of his time, but of all time”.
He added: “And when Neil stepped foot on the surface of the moon for the first time, he delivered a moment of human achievement that will never be forgotten.”
Armstrong’s crew member on Apollo 11 and the second man to walk on the moon, Buzz Aldrin, said he was “deeply saddened” by the loss of his good friend and “space exploration companion” with whom he had hoped to mark the 50th anniversary of their mission in 2019.
“Whenever I look at the moon I am reminded of that precious moment, over four decades ago, when Neil and I stood on the desolate, barren, yet beautiful Sea of Tranquillity,” he said.
“Looking back at our brilliant blue planet Earth suspended in the darkness of space, I realised that even though we were farther away from Earth than two humans had ever been, we were not alone.