Farewell to a hero


THE TERM hero has come into frequent use with the death of astronaut Neil Armstrong, his exploits as the first human to set foot on the lunar surface the reason he so richly deserves the accolade. Remembering his accomplishment takes one back to a different time, when perhaps heroes were in more plentiful supply than today.

It was a time when people of exceptional courage were willing to risk their lives to embark on space travel, relying on “advanced” computer systems that were no more powerful than a modern-day calculator. One could argue that the risk to life when orbiting in these cramped capsules was unwarranted given the US space programme was tailored to fit the cold war politics of the day. The US and then Soviet Union sought to demonstrate ideological supremacy through the technological success of being the first to put a man on the moon.

And yet the great drama and adventure of human space travel rose above the geopolitical dispute to capture the public imagination. People could immediately recognise the inherent dangers involved in blasting off into space and those early space travellers – all men – became modern day heroes. Astronauts such as John Glenn, in 1962 becoming the first American to orbit the Earth, returned to ticker-tape parades, visits to the White House and celebrity status. Ferrying astronauts to the moon – and landing them there – was of a different order of magnitude. A safe touchdown by the lunar lander had to be followed by a successful blast-off from the surface and redocking with the orbiting command capsule. Bad enough if two astronauts were lost in a crash landing. There could be no more public a failure, in human or geopolitical terms, than being forced to leave healthy astronauts behind to die a slow oxygen-starved death due to a technical fault.

Certainly the landing was as tense as any cinematic action adventure with Armstrong switching off the computer and bringing the lander down with only 17 seconds of fuel left. And debate continues about whether he fluffed his lines as his foot left the last ladder rung to press down into the thick lunar dust, declaring it to be alternatively a “small step for man” or “small step for a man”. What is not in dispute is his having earned the right to be declared a hero, not just by his fellow US citizens, but by all citizens of planet Earth. His small step represented a giant leap for mankind, a reaching out towards a reality beyond our planet. It was an act of heroism by any standard.

Sign In

Forgot Password?

Sign Up

The name that will appear beside your comments.

Have an account? Sign In

Forgot Password?

Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In or Sign Up

Thank you

You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.

Hello, .

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

Thank you for registering. Please check your email to verify your account.

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.