One Small Step
Published: Tuesday, August 28, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, September 11, 2012 18:09
Another piece of my childhood has passed. On Saturday, Aug 25th, Neil Armstrong died.
Neil Armstrong, of course, was the first man to walk on the moon. On July 20, 1969, he became the first man to set foot on another world. The world watched as he spoke the words “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” He was a pioneer in an age of heroes, the kind of man a young geek like me could look up to and admire.
Looking back, through the lens of the modern age, it can be all too easy to forget exactly what an achievement it was to send three men hurtling 400,000 kilometers through deep space, land them safely on another planet, and, most importantly, bring them back. Yet we did it, not once, but six times afterward. Of the 18 Apollo missions, only two ended in failure. Apollo 1, the initial test of the rocket, ended in disaster when a spark ignited the capsule’s oxygen-rich air, caught the capsule on fire, and killed the crew inside. Apollo 13 failed when an oxygen tank exploded mid-flight leaving the crew stranded in space. The mission was commemorated by Tom Hanks in the movie and as we all know, NASA still brought the crew home safely.
Let’s get something out of the way now. I will not entertain any conspiracy theories about whether NASA astronauts actually went to the moon. They did. If you think NASA faked it, you’re entitled to your opinion. But so am I, and I think you’re an idiot.
Today we send men and women into space with such astonishing regularity it’s almost become routine. My seventh grade history teacher told us, on the day of the first space shuttle launch, that one day we’d see a launch on television and think “there they go again.” I scoffed at the notion at the time. Space travel, routine? The very idea seemed ridiculous.
Yet here we are. We have a permanent space station in orbit, large enough to be seen with the naked eye. We have so many satellites in orbit, along with other assorted junk (wrenches, spare parts, even a glove) that there are more space launch hazards from debris than from natural causes like asteroids. We’ve even got satellites orbiting other worlds. Last week we put a robot probe on Mars using a flying crane, and it’s armed with a LASER. How awesome is that?
Yes, sometimes it does seem space travel has become too common to still be cutting edge. Then I watch events like the Curiosity landing and my childlike sense of wonder is rekindled.
We’ve come a long way since Armstrong left his footprint on Mare Tranquilitas, but we have a long way yet to go. After all, though the universe stretches far beyond our reach, it does not exceed our imagination. Let’s never lose that childlike sense of wonder that leads us to look up at the stars and think “someday.” Let’s never lose that sense of awe and majesty that led men like Neil Armstrong to make that “small step.”