Saturday, August 25, 2012

Thoughts on Neil Armstrong

"Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance." - Will Durant

Alternate Title: In Which You Realize Just How Massively Nerdy My Childhood Was

I do not remember a time before I knew Neil Armstrong's name. My dad's first memory is watching the moon landing with his siblings, and many of my early ones are him teaching me things about outer space--important events, the order of the planets, classifications of stars, etc.

Some kids idolize sports stars (my nine year old neighbor loves Tom Brady), some historical figures, and some actors. For a long time, however, the name that was always spoken with a whisper of awe was that of an astronaut. An example of someone who did something great/brave/courageous? Neil Armstrong. The answer in our own personal variation of 20 Questions? Neil Armstrong. Occasionally, even bedtime stories were replaced by Neil Armstrong (instead of the usual fare of Doctor Who/Lord of the Rings/let's-teach-the-girls-about-natural-selection-via-dragons-and-bunny-rabbits. Yeah, I had an interesting childhood).

I realized today, though, that I never actually knew all that much about the man himself. And he knew that would happen--that all people would ever remember would be his one giant leap for mankind--and I'm sure he was, for the most part, fine with it.

I mean, I'd be okay with it if all I was known for was doing something that freaking cool.

But I feel a little bit guilty, and then I feel even more guilty for not caring at all up until this point--what is it about the death of a complete stranger that makes us suddenly care about all of the little details you never bothered to know beforehand?

Even though I haven't ended up wanting to work for NASA or anything (although it's been my dream more than once over the years), the man has had a very subtle but very profound impact on my life. Where would my dad be, had he not been so inspired by a fuzzy image on his black and white TV in the tiny little town of Tonowanda, NY? Would he have wanted to be an engineer? Would I have even been born? Would he have ever bothered teaching me all of those little facts about space before I even hit kindergarten? I don't know.

It's so weird, how random people can have the biggest effects on your life without them ever knowing.

I'm sure there are plenty of people who went on to work in aeronautics because of Neil Armstrong. I am not one of those people, nor do I expect I will be, but that doesn't mean his existence and his life hasn't shaped my life, too.


1 comment:

  1. When I was a kid, Pluto was a planet.

    On a more serious note, Neil Armstrong's death diminishes us all, as xkcd noted at the time. However, I am excited by our exploration of Mars and our effective colonization of our own outer atmosphere by the ISS! Let us hope this lull in manned missions is simply a gathering of breath as we prepare to take the plunge out into the cosmos.


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