The Eagle has landed...

My family can tell you, today was a very emotional day. Each time the news reported the event, whether through a breaking news piece, or reporting it as the lead story in their broadcast, I suddenly become quite serious, and quiet.

What is it that has brought me to such emotion?

Neil Armstrong passed away today.

He died, at the age of 82, from "complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures."

A quiet, private man, at heart an engineer and crack test pilot, Mr. Armstrong made history on July 20, 1969, as the commander of the Apollo 11 spacecraft on the mission that culminated the Soviet-American space race in the 1960s...

On that day, Mr. Armstrong and his co-pilot, Col. Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., known as Buzz, steered their lunar landing craft, Eagle, to a level, rock-strewn plain near the southwestern shore of the Sea of Tranquillity. It was touch and go the last minute or two, with computer alarms sounding and fuel running low. But they made it. 

“Houston, Tranquility Base here,” Mr. Armstrong radioed to mission control. “The Eagle has landed.” 

“Roger, Tranquility,” mission control replied. “We copy you on the ground. You’ve got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a lot.”
Many recall exactly where they were that day. My recollection is limited mostly to hearsay, and a trace memory of a birthday dinner at the International House of Pancakes, as my family celebrated my second birthday. No, I don't recall anything specific about that actual day, but celebrating a birthday each year as the anniversary of that milestone is commemorated, has left an indelible mark.

I literally grew up reading about Neil Armstrong and that historic day. More than the event itself, there is one thing that has made an even more lasting impression upon me: Neil Armstrong's demeanor and his understanding of his role in the event. The New York Times article described it this way:
...A few hours later, there was Mr. Armstrong bundled in a white spacesuit and helmet on the ladder of the landing craft. Planting his feet on the lunar surface, he said, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

...Soon Colonel Aldrin joined Mr. Armstrong, bounding like kangaroos in the low lunar gravity, one sixth that of Earth’s, while the command ship pilot, Michael Collins, remained in orbit about 60 miles overhead, waiting their return...

Charles F. Bolden Jr., the current NASA administrator, said, “As long as there are history books, Neil Armstrong will be included in them, remembered for taking humankind’s first small step on a world beyond our own.” 

Mr. Bolden also noted that in the years after the moonwalk, Mr. Armstrong “carried himself with a grace and humility that was an example to us all.” The historian Douglas Brinkley, who interviewed Mr. Armstrong for a NASA oral history, described him as "our nation’s most bashful Galahad.” His family called him, “a reluctant hero who always believed he was just doing his job.”
Rarely is such humility seen in today's events. Consider the giant leaps taken by many of today's sports figures as they make their indelible mark on humankind (Yes, feel free to read in all the sarcasm you can imagine). Whether shooting a 3-point shot, or running for an extra 30 yards on a kick off, such moments of "human achievement" are celebrated by the individual's race down field, so the camera is on them alone. They throw their arms out and puff out their chest, or worse yet, grab their jersey with a fist, then defiantly yank their hand away - a visual symbol announcing to the world that we "can't touch this" - as all eyes myopically focus on the singularity of their personal accomplishment. Worse yet are the celebrities who enlist their mass of public relation assistants to ensure the cameras capture their best side during their season of conspicuous giving.

Such was never Armstrong's style.

Though I doubt hope history will ever forget his accomplishment, I fear we may forget have forgotten his most important lesson. A principle expressed by his family at his passing:
“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.”

Thank you Mr. Armstrong!

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