“Geologists have a saying: rocks remember.” -Neil Armstrong
Looming up above us, hundreds of thousands of miles away, is the largest moon in the inner solar system: our Moon. And nearly 45 years ago, this very small region of it became famous as the site of the first steps of an Earth-borne creature on its surface.
One of the greatest achievements in the history of our planet culminated on July 20th, 1969, when the first humans from our world set foot on the Moon. At that moment, we became — as far as we know — the first creatures to ever willingly leave their own world and land on another.
And just like most large achievements, although it was the product of thousands upon thousands of people working together to make it happen, the actual first steps were taken by one simple individual.
The honor of the first step went to Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, who took a small step for himself, but heralded a metaphorical giant leap forward for mankind. As we approach the 45th anniversary of this milestone, let’s remember that it was back in August of 2012 that Neil Armstrong died at the age of 82.
Though he was but one man, he leaves behind not just one but two worlds full of memories. He was known as a man of few words, but the ones he said were often memorable.
Such as the time he spoke about the Earth…
“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.” -Neil Armstrong
Or his famous first words from the surface of the Moon…
“This is one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” -Neil Armstrong
And of dreams, that go well beyond our presence on either of those worlds.
“The important achievement of Apollo was demonstrating that humanity is not forever chained to this planet and our visions go rather further than that and our opportunities are unlimited.” -Neil Armstrong
Almost all the photos of astronauts on the Moon from the Apollo 11 mission were of Buzz Aldrin, as Neil Armstrong had the responsibility of most of the mission photography tasks. It’s not as though there were many options; the mission photography was all accomplished with a single Hasselblad camera.
But there is one photo I’ve found — that is my absolute favorite — of Neil Armstrong on the Moon.
Sure, that’s Buzz Aldrin in the spacesuit, but look hard. Look closer at Buzz’s helmet; it’s amazing what a partially reflective surface can do when the Sun’s at the right angle.
That figure you see in white? That’s the photographer — Neil — back by “The Eagle,” the Apollo 11 Lunar Module, reflected in Buzz Aldrin’s helmet.
For his final task on the Moon, he left a small package filled with items memorializing previously deceased pioneers in space exploration, including Soviet cosmonauts Yuri Gagarin and Vladimir Komarov, and Apollo 1 astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee. Even during the height of the cold war, there was nothing like the exploration of a new frontier — as exemplified by the people who risked their lives to be the first to reach out into it — to bring the brave men and women of the world together.
Now it’s Neil’s turn, and our turn to remember him. Upon his death, his family released the following statement:
“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.”
You can bet I’ll be doing exactly that for quite some time, whenever the clouds part at night and I can see the Moon. Even today, when the waning Moon appears in the morning skies, I’ll be thinking of those first exhilarating, terrifying steps that were taken long before I was born, and (at this point) long before the majority of people currently on Earth were born, too.
But just because we weren’t alive at the time doesn’t mean it’s an event that doesn’t live on in our shared history. Rocks remember, and so will we.
The man may be gone, but up on the Moon, his steps still remain. Rest in Peace, Neil Armstrong.
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