Monday, August 27, 2012

One Small Step

The crew of Apollo 11 prepares to go to the moon. Image from NASA.
The passing of Neil Armstrong is unexpected to me. In my head, he's a giant of a man who stands head and shoulders over all of us alongside Edwin Aldrin and Michael Collins and the entire NASA team that got those three men to the moon.

Armstrong considered the accomplishment of being the first man on the moon as just part of his job. He commanded the Apollo 11 mission and the amount of work that went into accomplishing the mission was enormous. He was responsible and took his responsibilities seriously. He is an example of how one should conduct himself in his work and in life in general.

He acknowledged the 'special' part of landing on the moon. (And I don't want to hear anything about conspiracies regarding the moon landing, either. It happened, he walked there, so did Aldrin; stop saying they didn't.) But there was work to be done and they had very little time to do it. If you don't know, there was only about 30 seconds of fuel left on board the lunar module when it touched down. Talk about nerves of steel and flying with absolute precision to land on the surface of another heavenly body no one had any idea of how stable or deep the dust was, he was calm as a glass lake. You can hear it in the communications with Flight.

He's an inspiration, a hero, and a gentleman.

I tell people I remember my mother setting me in front of the TV to watch the moon landing and I'm pretty sure I DO remember it though I was a little less than two years old when it happened. What I know is that Neil and Buzz and Mike were part of my life's journey since the beginning and losing Neil is a sign that I'm aging just a little. It's also a reminder that one can be famous for doing what's expected of him (just look at sports figures who excel and are grossly overcompensated). Neil acknowledged the accomplishment but then wanted to live as a private person.

Good for him.

This is a terrific picture of the building from the same vantage as I
approached it. Image attribution.
I never had the opportunity to meet Mr. Armstrong but when I visited Purdue several years ago I was stunned by the Hall of Engineering that had recently been opened on the campus. I came around a corner and found it just like this and - WOW. It's impressive with that giant (and it's GIANT) spaceplane nose coming over the top like that. I stood, stunned, and took it all in. I walked around the statue of Neil there and marveled at the structure. During my visit I found excuses to go look at it several times.

Upon my return to Kansas I told my space geek friends about the building and how it just took my breath away. Neil had been there and walked in the same space he'd been in at some point. That was enough for me.

The example he set by just being a man, a person who did his job and what was expected of him, is one that we should all follow. Just doing our jobs is important because people are depending on us to do what's asked. If there's glory or remuneration to be had as a result of doing that job, fine, but there's no need to parlay that into something more every chance you get.

No, take the time to enjoy your accomplishment but move on. It's difficult to be the first person to do anything of the magnitude of orbiting, landing, or walking on another world but you can do that and still be you.

Photo from NASA.
The small step that Neil took on the Moon that day in July 1969 is very small, indeed, compared to the one he took after he (and Buzz and Mike) returned to Earth. Let's celebrate all the things he did after walking on the moon, shall we? He lived a full life, a good one. He's more than the one accomplishment as that accomplishment belonged to many, many more than just him.

And where did it start? With a challenge to the American people to do something that seemed impossible, to invent technology previously thought far beyond our capabilities (unless one was writing science fiction), and to do it in a hurry.

From President Kennedy's speech at Rice University to the death of Neil Armstrong, we've come a long way and a lot of people made things happen. Things that are now taken for granted. Every job, large or small, is important to the completion of any mission. Let Neil's life and accomplishments inspire you to do your job - no matter what it is or how significant (or not) others may think it is - and to be good at it.

I have and I will.

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