A Commentary by J. D. Longstreet
Neil Alden Armstrong (August 5, 1930 – August 25, 2012) was an American astronaut, test pilot, aerospace engineer, university professor and United States Naval Aviator. He was the first person to walk on the Moon.
I grew up a reader. I fell in love with words and especially the printed word even before I began first grade. I, basically, taught myself to read with the Charlotte News, which (in those days) was an afternoon edition newspaper. It had every thing a young scholar needed. There were photographs with captions -- and there were the "funny papers," or, as we called them, "the funnies." Somewhere, along about the second or third grade, my aunt presented me with a gift that changed my life. It was a worn, torn, smudged, dog-eared, Webster's Collegiate "abridged" dictionary, which had been her sister's when she (the sister) had been a college student.
As difficult as it might be to understand, especially today with all the electronic instruments we have for communicating, I was in love with a book! I read that dictionary -- from cover to cover -- and used it for most of the remainder of my formal education.
Soon afterwards, she gave me a copy of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." It was my introduction to reading for the pure fun of it. It did not take long before the county library was my second home.
I do not recall how, exactly, I became addicted to Science Fiction, but -- did I ever! In a fairly short time I had read my way through the "Science Fiction" section at the library.
Science fiction allowed the reader's (my) mind to wander, to explore realms that were not explorable -- but -- held the promise of exploration in the future. It erased the horizon.
I recall that on one summer break my teacher offered special credit for any books we read over vacation time. I read 26 books that summer.
My love for science fiction continued into adulthood and, honestly, continues even today.
I was absolutely crushed when Sputnik flew successfully into orbit around the earth I was elated and crushed at the same time. For, you see, I KNEW that when the door to space was opened, it would be the USA that kicked it open and colonized the planets of Sol and the worlds of those, oh, so distant stars.
In those days, America was a "can-do" country with a people who simply did not believe there was anything they could not do.
The race to the stars was ON!
The US decided the moon was to be our first stop. It offered a "way station," if you will. It was a place where man could learn to live and work in an alien "biosphere." It was to be the jumping-off place for expeditions to our neighboring planets. Then, from the moon, it was onwards and outwards to worlds we did not even know existed but hoped to find on our gypsy-like wandering through the universe(s).
Neil Armstrong was the first human being to set foot on the surface of the moon. He opened the door for all mankind. And Neil Armstrong was an AMERICAN! The photo of Armstrong standing beside that American flag planted firmly in the lunar surface still brings a lump to my throat every time I see it. The door to space HAD been kicked open by America -- and there was no turning back.
... Except -- we DID turn back.
The scriptures tell us in Proverbs 29:18, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” It is a truth that is playing out all around us today as America is obviously a nation in decline. Not only have we restored our horizons, we have dragged them in even closer suffocating the yearning to learn what's over the next hill or around the next corner -- let alone the next universe or the next galaxy.
Someday, if America survives, and there is a huge "if" concerning our survival as a nation today, we will have to go back to the moon. It is still the stepping stone to the discovery of man's future and some say -- to man's past. There are those who believe it is the doorway to man's ancestral home.
When we DO go back -- and beyond -- it will be as the result of the courage, the work, and the risk, of a man by the name of Neil Armstrong who inspired all mankind by taking "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
Yes, I know we have robots on Mars. But to me, until a human being steps onto the surface of Mars, as Neil Armstrong did to Luna, it doesn't count.
NASA and the government must understand. They have lost the interest of the public simply because the human element has been ejected from America's space exploration program.
It is impossible to place a price on dreams. As Robert Browning, the Victorian English poet said: “Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?” Browning understood that man must continue to reach for those things beyond those he already has within his grasp. It is an inherent part of the human animal to reach for, to seek, and hopefully to discover, that which he knows is there, and that which he only suspects is there. In doing so, we grow and flourish -- and -- we expand those horizons I so often write about. In NOT doing so we perish -- just as the proverb from the Bible so wisely states.
Neil Armstrong knew that. He was at the vanguard of man's quest in reaching for the stars. His place in the history of human beings is well secured.
Browning also said: “The aim, if reached or not, makes great the life ... "
Neil Armstrong blazed the trail into a future of untold discovery. He showed us the way. How sad it is that we can no longer find enough "vision" in ourselves -- or our leaders -- to follow.
I am very afraid there is but a residue of vision left in America today as we lay to rest a trail-blazing visionary who risked everything to mark the way for all mankind to follow.
Alas, Armstrong's countrymen may no longer be in the vanguard of space exploration, but mankind WILL go to the planets -- and beyond. That is a given. When one nation falters, another steps up. When one nation's vision diminishes, another's expands. As in a game of leap frog, progress is slow and laborious. But in the end, it is sure. Neil Armstrong proved that.
We salute Neil Armstrong with the words of John Gillespie Magee, Jr :
Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
J. D. Longstreet
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