A Small Step into a Giant World: A Tribute to Neil Armstrong

“That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.” Those few words created waves that would shap the way we think of exploration. From the moment Earth was created, man wanted to explore new things, seek out new civilizations, experiencing things that were deemed impossible at first but were eventually accomplished by one’s own will. It started with the exploration of new lands through Christopher Columbus, Hernando DeSoto and Sir Francis Drake, followed by encountering cultures while settling in places like Jamestown (1607) and Plymouth (1620) where we adopted many customs that still exist today (think of Thanksgiving, the turkey and corn). When we made our stake in the ownership of the country through Manifest Destiny, we looked ahead to see what was out there and where we could live and have a new and better life. When the frontier closed in 1890, we looked to the skies to see what was out there. While the first liquid-based rocket was launched by Robert Goddard in 1926 and Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in 1947, the first men that entered space were Yuri Gagarin and Alan Shepard. Soon more astronauts were taking to the skies and into outer space, but no one really thought about going to the moon and landing- that was until 1969.

When Neil Armstrong landed on the moon and took those first few steps on its soil, it changed everything we thought about exploration. On the one hand we realized that we had reached our climax and our limit in exploration in general. Unless one invented warp speed (like it was seen in Star Trek) and invented a man-made spacecraft to take us to Mars and beyond, we would not be able to go further than the moon. On the other hand, Armstrong opened the doors of opportunity in ways no one had ever thought of before. It led to the question of whether there is life beyond our planet and if so, where…. 43 years, one International Space Station, several Voyagers, Rovers and Star Trek films later, one can debate on this question. While Rover provided us with the most recent photos, temperatures and samples from Mars a few weeks ago, we are three generations away from landing on Mars and creating a civilization; six more away from creating a starship that takes us beyond the solar system- maybe more if we are still as strapped for cash as NASA is right now….

Many of us probably have read about space exploration and at least have heard of Armstrong’s moon landing, but little do we realized, Armstrong’s first steps on the moon indirectly brought the world closer together (despite the conflicts we had with Russia and China at that time), encouraging us to explore not only our own surroundings and experiencing things that we never thought of, but also meet different people and their own cultures, making us more cosmopolitan than we were before the event.

We had already lost an important astronaut in Dr. Sally Ride, who died on 23 July of cancer, who was the first woman to enter space (that happened in 1983). Space added another star in Neil Armstrong, who died on 25 August at the age of 82. He left a legacy that is still being taught in the history classes with the hope that someday, each student will look to the stars and ask themselves if there is life beyond their borders. I sometimes wonder that myself and hope that the younger people will take that small step into the unknown and see for themselves. Only then will they be able to answer that question.