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Neil Armstrong

I know Nick has had a draft lying around for a while (so have I; I just keep them on my own hard drive), so I hope he doesn’t mind me jumping in, but some comment should really be made on the passing of Neil Armstrong before the week is out. It already feels a bit like raking over old news. The reason I’ve held off (and it seems to be the case for Nick, too) is that there really isn’t much more to say that hasn’t already been said. His name will be remembered long after any of us are gone, after David Cameron, Angela Merkel, and President Obama become mere footnotes in history. We don’t know the identity of the first vertebrate to haul itself out of the primoridial ooze; we don’t know who disovered fire, the smelting of bronze, or of iron. But Armstrong, the first living creature to set foot on the moon, the first from this planet to set foot on any other, his name, his words, his deeds, have been recorded, and will not be lost as long as humanity endures.

By all accounts, he was a humble, not to say shy, man who shunned adulation. But it’s not adulation – we know he didn’t do it at all alone, and won his chance to be first almost by lottery – just a simple statement of fact: like Rameses or Caesar, his name will be known to schoolchildren in not just hundreds, but thousands, of years. Of who else, in our lifetimes, can that be said?


  1. NickM says:

    You’re almost right Sam. I just couldn’t say anything much or I could say way too much or… I just didn’t know where to go beyond cutting and pasting autobiographical details of such a staggering man.

    I honestly had nothing to compared to, say, the public statement from Buzz Aldrin. What could I say to that.

    Thanks Sam. Something needed to be said.

    PS possibly apocryphal…

    “I heard a story that when Neil was coming down the ladders he muttered “this ones for you Buck”. NASA asked him what he meant and who was Buck, Neil told them to forget it as it was personal and so it was wiped from the official transcript. Years later he explained who Uncle Buck was. When he was a lad he used to practice basketball by shooting at a ring attached to the side of his house. One evening he missed and the ball bounced over into his neighbour’s garden, Uncle Buck. Neil climbed the fence and was retrieving his ball when he heard Uncle Buck arguing with his wife. Uncle Buck said, “why don’t you just try it once, how do you know you don’t like it if you’ve never tried it?” His wife replied “listen here, get it through your thick skull, I’ll only do that when men walk on the moon!””

  2. Richard Allan says:

    That’s the infamous “Good Luck Mr Gorsky” story, Nick. Zack Snyder’s Watchmen even referenced it.

  3. Bam-Bam says:

    “His name will be known to schoolchildren in not just hundreds, but thousands, of years. Of who else, in our lifetimes, can that be said?”

    I think you’re forgetting the titanic, nay gargantuan figure that is Diane Abbott. Truly a colossus waddling amongst us.

  4. Philip Scott Thomas says:

    Definitely apocryphal.

    Snopes debunks the Good Luck, Mr Gorsky story here.

  5. Philip Scott Thomas says:

    Oops. Screwed that link up.

    It’s here.

  6. John Galt says:

    In truth, it would probably have been preferable for Neil Armstrong if the suggestion that Buzz Aldrin be the first man to walk on the moon was carried out.

    Although Neil Armstrong was an exceptional and brave pilot, it was clear from early on and certainly before the moon landings that he had a great deal of difficulty adjusting to the public relations aspects of both the Gemini and Apollo programmes.

    Buzz Aldrin, was much more comfortable and would have probably saved Neil from years of unnecessary heartache and intrusion into his private life which he always struggled to free himself and his family from.

    I’m sad over the death of Neil Armstrong and recall watching the Apollo moon landings as a kid (although Apollo 17 is the only one I remember distinctly) was an incredibly proud moment in my life.

    Given that most of the Apollo astronauts are in their seventies and eighties, it is likely that by the mid 2020’s no-one will be alive who has walked on the moon.

    That is the real tragedy.

  7. Sam Duncan says:

    If we’re lucky, John, they have until around 2035. Off the top of my head, I think that’s assuming some of the youngest live to 100.

    I’d be fairly surprised if someone doesn’t make it to the moon again by then. But only fairly.

    Mind you, we know the likes of Elon Musk have long-term aspirations towards Mars, and I wonder if, with the NASA moonwalkers dying off and the possibility/probability of China taking up the baton, we might see another “space race”. I could well imagine one of the commercial space entrepreneurs saying to himself, “F*@$ that… let’s get someone back up there before the Chinese government monopolizes it”.

    I’m glad I’m just old enough for people to have walked on the moon in my lifetime, but I don’t remember any of it; I was barely 18 months old during Apollo 17. My earliest space memories are of Skylab and Apollo-Soyuz, and it’s still quite a shock to think that STS-1, which I recall vividly, was over 30 years ago. And, ultimately, what a waste those 30 years faffing around in LEO have been. Oh, I know: Hubble, SOHO, et al., not to mention GPS, which I consider one of mankind’s greatest accomplishments. But we’re humans, we look for new places to live; it’s what we are.

  8. NickM says:

    I dunno about Buzz v Neil, John. Look at the trajectory of his career. Korean War Sabre pilot (2 MiG-15 kills), PhD in Astronautics, second man on the Moon (are you detecting Nick envy yet?). And then what? He was still a fairly young man and he had the CV of a demi-god. And then… He got depressed and turned to drink. It’s a Hell of a thing is it not for a bloke of such (literally) astronomical achievement and not yet 40 to realize that is, as they say, it.

    Your final paragraph is kinda what I wanted to get at in my Apollo 13 of a post that never quite was. The strand is breaking. It is almost history now and not tomorrow.

  9. RAB says:

    I watched the Moon landing round at my friend Walter’s house, along with half a dozen other mates and his parents, and frankly us youth were less than overawed.

    Why? Well we had been brought up on Sci-fi, and it was the sixties, the decade of anything is possible. We were looking forward (via Tomorrow’s World etc) to our jet packs and flying cars, and this was just the Moon, something we were almost hardwired to expect. Give us a shout when it’s Alpha Centauri, then we’ll get excited, we thought.

    But as it turned out, that was to be about IT. Bloody tragedy!

    A quick anecdote that I’ve done before, but you all have probably forgotten…

    My mate Walter’s mum, was not the sharpest knife in the draw. So as Neil was coming down the ladder and uttering his… One giant leap for Mankind speech, she said…

    I think the BBC are absolutely wonderful don’t you boys?

    Er yes Mrs Storr, they certainly are, but in what way do you mean?

    Well they’ve got an outside Broadcast crew up there already to film them land, that’s brilliant!

    Neil and the other pioneers were magnificent and incredibly brave men, trusting their lives and return to Earth on less computer technology than I now have available in a mobile phone. “Floating in a tin can high above the Earth” as Bowie put it, with little or no control over their fate. I will salute and cherish Neil and the others memory.

    But the fact remains, that if we do not follow them, nay surpass them, then we will go the same way as the dinosaurs. Our Sun will eventually go out, if we are not circling another, or better still many by then, we, humankind, will go out with it.

  10. John Galt says:

    He was still a fairly young man and he had the CV of a demi-god. And then… He got depressed and turned to drink.

    Not unreasonable really, Buzz was the second man on the moon – that is pretty much the height of human achievement. From that point onward, it was downhill all the way.

    In fact I can pretty much guarantee that if I’d been in his position I’d have done the same. Neil Armstrong dealt with the problem equally effectively by never talking about it. From a psycho analytical perspective, these are both equally traumatic ways of dealing with the enormity of what they had done.

    This might have been lessened if they had been the first of a vast number of later lunar explorers (as was originally expected back in the late 1960’s), but as it was Apollo was little more than the still birth of manned extra-planetary exploration. All of the LEO bullshit that followed and continues to this day doesn’t really count.

    Are we surprised that the remaining lunar astronauts are traumatised and psychologically scarred by their experiences? I would be stunned if they weren’t.

  11. NickM says:

    I’ve heard that about a number of battle of Britain Fighter pilots and similar. Geoff Wellum (his memoir “First Light” is brilliant) had a really hard time getting over feeling that in his early twenties he’d done the most important stuff he’d ever do.

    Hey, he married his sweetheart, had kids, became a successful commodities broker but where was that “lonely impulse of delight”?

    Not easy.

    Cracking story. And you know how the BBC got there first to set-up the test shots etc… Altogether now! “Due to the unique way they are funded”! Talk about taking one of the pivotal moments in human history and… Well, I would have laughed myself into some form of fit!

    If you every wondered why a Dalek has a sink-plunger. It’s because the original ones did. That was the BBC in space at the time. Neil, Buzz and Mike needed a bit more than stuff you could buy at Woolies. Having said that getting out they broke the ignition switch on the lunar lander and Neil and Buzz had to “hot-wire” it with a pen. Buzz Aldrin still has the pen. Otherwise they’d still be at Tranquility Base. That is a measure of them. 250,000 miles from home with the World watching and they improvise. Not only great explorers, great pilots, great engineers and great scientists but as an IT tech myself that is top improv. That is quality bodging. I have done similar but a property in South Manchester and a recalcitrant Dell with no-one watching is kinda different.

    I winked at the Moon. Did you?

  12. Single Acts of Tyranny says:

    “where was that “lonely impulse of delight”?”

    It’s where you look for it and where you find it. Now in all fairness I have not walked on the moon, but having achieved in one field, you can either lay on a beach/turn to drink etc or take those qualities and do something else.

    For me right now, it’s my three year old son (far and away the priority), one or two commercial ventures and something I am hoping to pull-off locally. It’s not moon-landing stuff of course, and it lacks the adrenaline life-death thrill of trying to shoot down a Dornier at 350mph, but there is delight there, for me anyway.

  13. Mr Ed says:

    Dr Fred Sanger, who is the only living person with 2 Nobel Prizes, both in Chemistry (i.e. real achievements) has retired to his garden after being involved in the genesis of protein and DNA sequencing, and his techniques have helped to revolutionise biochemistry and the life sciences. It would be fair to say that in every molecular biology lab on Earth, his techniques are applied on a routine basis, and the progress of the last 50 years would have been set back decades. He is utterly lacking in self-aggrandisement.

    He perhaps had the advantage of a Quaker upbringing.

  14. Tim Newman says:

    Shame he had to use drugs to achieve it all though, eh?

  15. NickM says:

    OK, fine but with the bestest will in the world you ain’t done nothing like Armstrong did and neither did I or RAB, or Sam, or Paul or Cats…

  16. bloke in spain says:

    Buzz Aldrin
    Climate Change denier.
    UFO’s seen from moon ship, debunker.
    All round good guy.

  17. Paul Marks says:

    A truly great man.

    I am happy (for once) to be middle aged.

    As this means that I can remember what Neil Armstrong did – as he did it.

    Indeed it is my one of my FIRST memories (Vietnam and the Moonlanding – both television memories, I was left watching the television as both my parents were busy).

    Neil Armstrong was a truly great man.

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