Private family man, engineer, US Navy fighter pilot, war veteran, civilian test pilot, astronaut, academic, businessman, reluctant hero, and the first man to walk on the moon, Neil Armstrong has died at the age of 82. Reg Turnill, who was the BBC’s aerospace correspondent at the time of the first moon landing, gives his thoughts. Nasa’s tribute is available here. And, via the Professor, Rand Simberg has a detailed biography that’s worth a read.
I don’t think it’s still on the iPlayer, but the BBC 4 documentary Being Neil Armstrong is also worth watching. In particular, for the email exchange between Neil Armstrong and the author and presenter, Andrew Smith, and the final pay-off. Perhaps they’ll repeat it.
But here are a few clips, and some of Neil Armstrong’s colleagues, from the wondrous documentary In the Shadow of the Moon
Starting with a fascinating clip of the Apollo 11 launch with comments from Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins and other Apollo astronauts.
Here’s Apollo 11′s “forgotten astronaut” Mike Collins on orbiting the Moon alone in the Columbia command module.
The descent and landing of the Eagle.
Armstrong and Aldrin step onto the Moon’s surface, and Aldrin’s own lunar first.
And from the Guardian’s report on Neil Armstrong’s last public appearance, in May this year, at a meeting of the Certified Practicing Accountants of Australia.
Armstrong, who rarely gave interviews, regaled his audience with news of how he thought Apollo 11, which carried him, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins to the moon, only had a “50-50 chance” of landing safely on its surface and a 90% chance of returning home.
He said it was “sad” that the current US government’s ambitions for Nasa were so reduced compared with the achievements of the 1960s.
“Nasa has been one of the most successful public investments in motivating students to do well and achieve all they can achieve,” said Armstrong. “It’s sad that we are turning the programme in a direction where it will reduce the amount of motivation and stimulation it provides to young people.”
He said the short-term nature of decision-making was doing a disservice to the agency, adding: “I’m substantially concerned about the policy directions of the space agency. We have a situation in the US where the White House and Congress are at odds over what the future direction should be. They’re sort of playing a game and Nasa is the shuttlecock that they’re hitting back and forth.”
Also at the Guardian, Martin Robbins notes that “Nobody born after 1935 has walked on the moon”, and makes an impassioned plea for a manned mission to Mars.
I don’t give a damn if robotic probes make more sense. I don’t give a damn about the views of academic committees or health and safety. I don’t give a damn about the supposed costs – money spent on space exploration is invested in science and technology right here on Earth, and has paid for itself many times over. There’s no point having a great civilization if all we do is sit on our little rock and just survive.
Curiosity made us what we are: the instinct that makes us click an interesting link on Twitter is the same force that built our cities and hospitals and carried us on rocket ships to the moon. It may not be rational, but we didn’t get where we are by being an entirely rational species – we did it by trying things, and failing pretty much most of the time. It’s time for someone to step up and show us all that we still have that drive, that when we have the guts to unleash that curiosity – and the guts to fail – we can still achieve greatness. Neil Armstrong’s death is a wake-up call, a challenge to our generation. We can go to Mars, and it doesn’t need a miracle: we just need to decide to go.
And in response, at the Telegraph blogs, a calmer Tom Chivers agrees
Does it need a human face? Is there sufficient reason to risk the lives of men and women on the obvious next step, a manned trip to Mars? It’d be easy, with Armstrong not yet buried and all the emotion that involves, to answer that question with an unthinking yes, but of course there are dangers and costs, and as our robot technology gets better, it may be that the scientific need is less pressing.
That’s a question for others. But I’d like to make a slightly different case, away from the scientific aspect. I was born in 1980, 11 years after Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon. Even all those years later, even now, it is one of the greatest images of human achievement: looking back from a different world at our own. I am told by my parents and others who were alive at the time that when Armstrong landed, as when Yuri Gagarin first left the Earth, that it was one of those rare times when humanity felt united as a species. We felt something of that awe when Curiosity landed the other week, but it is a pale shadow of what we would surely feel to see a person step down a ladder on to the surface of Mars.
Is that reason enough to do it? I don’t know. But it’s certainly a reason.
But the last word, deservedly, goes to Neil Armstrong’s family. From their statement on the Nasa website.
As much as Neil cherished his privacy, he always appreciated the expressions of good will from people around the world and from all walks of life.
While we mourn the loss of a very good man, we also celebrate his remarkable life and hope that it serves as an example to young people around the world to work hard to make their dreams come true, to be willing to explore and push the limits, and to selflessly serve a cause greater than themselves.
For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor 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.”