It's with great sadness that I read this morning that Neil Armstrong had died. Armstrong as the first human being to set foot on the Moon was the first to stake mankind's claim to an existence beyond this meager globe.
The word "hero" gets tossed around with careless ease in modern society. Any good deed, any decent act, which once upon a time was merely the way things were done, gets someone labeled a "hero", often despite their own desires. We heap praise on relatively minor acts, which unfortunately diminishes somewhat the true meaning of the concept of hero when it should be applied sparingly to truly worthy accomplishments.
Neil Armstrong's distinction as the first man on the Moon is just such an accomplishment. Buzz Aldrin was there with him of course on, but it was Armstrong who got the nod to first tread on the extra-terra firma. It was Armstrong who in one dazzling and dramatic moment transformed all of mankind truly and properly into a multi-planet species.
Our meager efforts to follow up on these spectacular triumphs of Armstrong and the faceless others of the Apollo program is to the everlasting regret of this observer. The United States has squandered in many ways its opportunity to transform the nature of man and to fundamentally create a new way forward for all of mankind. Instead we retreated from the Moon, and from space, and to no small extent from ourselves. We now reside in the shadows of those grand glories.
The death of Neil Armstrong signals an end to one era of exploration. Sure there are countless others who are still with us, Buzz Aldrin no less. But something seems different now with this quiet and private hero having slipped off into that good night. Something seems lost, something seems left behind. Sadly it seems it was just one small step for man.