Neil Armstrong, the Commander of Apollo 11, and the first man to walk on the Moon, died today, at the age of 82. What made Armstrong an American hero, and an historic figure known throughout the world, was not only the accomplishment that had been the dream of all of mankind for centuries, but his dedication to the lunar landing as being not the end, but just the beginning, of the exploration of space. Rather than become a corporate executive, or media figure, Armstrong became a university professor, to help prepare the next generation of explorers.
Neil Armstrong was a soft-spoken, reserved, and very private man, who never flaunted his fame, or tried to capitalize on it. He rarely appeared in public after leaving the space agency after the Apollo program, and for decades, only come to Washington on the major anniversaries celebrating the lunar landing, and only at the invitation of, and undoubtedly coaxed by, the President of the United States.
But he was so angered by President Obama's cancellation of the Constellation program in Feb. 2010, that he traveled to Capitol Hill and joined Apollo 17 Commander Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the Moon, to state the case for space exploration to the Congress, in May of that year.
Armstrong said he found President Obama's proposal to end the Constellation program to return to the Moon "mystifying." It would be as if "President Thomas Jefferson announced in 1808 that Americans 'need not go to west of the Mississippi, [since] the Lewis and Clark expedition had already been there.'" The previous month he had joined Cernan and Apollo 13 Commander Jim Lovell in a letter to Obama which described the Obama proposal as a "slide to mediocrity," and "devastating."
During one hearing, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) said to Armstrong: "One thousand years from now, no one in this room will be remembered except for you." Only if we do our job.
A few years ago, actor Tom Hanks, who had portrayed Lovell in the movie "Apollo 13," produced a film, which he narrated, called "Magnificent Desolation; Walking on the Moon in 3D." It begins with interviews with children at a California science museum. Almost none of them could answer the question, "who was the first man to walk on the Moon?" which was why, in fact, Hanks made the movie.