A mod­est hero leaves earth one last time

North Penn Life - - NEWS -

I live about 12 miles east of where I work, and some evenings, if I am lucky enough to es­cape the RI­fiFH aURund sun­down, I drive to­ward the full moon as it rises over Abing­ton. It has been a fa­mil­iar sight — the full moon, not Abing­ton — since the dawn of our species, and yet it al­ways catches me by sur­prise.

The moon is noth­ing but an air­less rock with an av­er­age day­time tem­per­a­ture of about 225 de­grees ( com­fort­able, though, be­cause it’s a dry heat). Seen from Susque­hanna ooad, how­ever, or from ooute 3M9, it looks like an invit­ing des­ti­na­tion, es­pe­cially on crisp evenings when the white disk shines like a spot­light.

For a brief time 4M years ago, the moon was in fact a des­ti­na­tion, one the world’s two su­per­pow­ers strived to at­tain. Be­sides the arms race, the r.S. was run­ning a “space race” against the Soviet rnion, and we were deWHUminHd WhaW WhH fiUVW man WR walk that dead piece of real es­tate would be an Amer­i­can.

In guly 1969, we won the race, demon­strat­ing once again the su­pe­ri­or­ity of the Western way of life. The fiUVW man WR OHaYH hiV IRRWprints in the lu­nar dust was in­deed one of us — a mod­est aero­nau­ti­cal en­gi­neer from Ohio by the name of Neil Arm­strong.

I was 11 years old when the Ea­gle, the Apollo 11 land­ing craft, touched down at the dust­bowl known as the Sea of Tran­quil­ity, and, even with­out re­fresh­ing my mem­ory via YouTube, I can still pic­ture Arm­strong’s ghostly, tele- vised im­age de­scend­ing the lad­der to the lu­nar sur­face. ,W iV diI­fiFuOW WR FRnYHy to young peo­ple who were not alive at the time just how moon­struck we all were in the sum­mer of ’69. The name Neil Arm­strong was on ev­ery­one’s lips, and ev­ery re­tailer in the coun­try, it seemed, tried to cash in on his­tory.

Com­mem­o­ra­tive books were pub­lished. News­pa­pers and mag­a­zines put out spe­cial edi­tions. Even gas sta­tions sold sou­venirs: One in par­tic­u­lar, I re­mem­ber, was a col­or­ful, heavy- pa­per model of the Ea­gle. It came in a book­let. You cut out the parts, folded them along the dot­ted lines, in­serted the var­i­ous tabs into the var­i­ous slots, and there you had it. I as­sem­bled one eagerly and hung it by a thread from my bed­room ceil­ing, where it stayed for months.

How re­mote it all seems now. When I learned last week that Arm­strong had died Aug. 25, at age 82, he might as well have been a gen­eral in the Amer­i­can oevo­lu­tion, for all the im­me­di­acy the news held.

In a sense, Arm­strong had passed into his­tory long ago. Since his mo­ment of world­wide fame, he lived qui­etly, teach­ing, tend­ing his farm, work­ing in busi­ness. While no means a recluse, he avoided the lime­light, be­cause, his fam­ily said, he felt guilty about tak­ing sole credit for an achieve­ment that he re­garded as a col­lec­tive ef­fort.

If, by the time of his death, Neil Arm­strong had be­come more of a name than a pres­ence, the fault lies not in the man, who never sought im­mor­tal­ity to be­gin with, but in the na­ture of his ac­com­plish­ment. oeach­ing the moon no longer seems as im­por­tant as it once did. A re­turn is un­likely any­time soon, and, as a piece of his­tory, the Apollo pro­gram is less rel­e­vant to the way we live now than many other events of the tur­bu­lent ’ 6Ms.

The Apollo land­ing fol­lowed by only a year or less the re­lease of the film “2MM1: A Space Odyssey” and the can­cel­la­tion of the Ts se­ries “Star Trek.” These and other works of sci­ence fic­tion con­di­tioned our re­sponse to the mis­sion our real- life as­tro­nauts had un­der­taken. We be­lieved they were tak­ing the first step to­ward a per­ma­nent hu­man pres­ence in space, the col­o­niza­tion of the moon, Mars and be­yond.

Need­less to say, things didn’t turn out as we’d fore­seen. As far as the moon was con­cerned, we came, we saw, we con­quered, and then we went home and for­got about it.

But it is still an in­spir­ing sight, loom­ing on the hori­zon, and when I see it from be­hind the wheel, I feel some­how closer to it be­cause I am able to tell my­self, “Hu­man be­ings once stood up there.”

Arm­strong’s fam­ily has said that any­one who wants to pay trib­ute to his mem­ory should sim­ply look up at the moon and wink. I’ve done it a cou­ple of times, and I en­cour­age ev­ery­one else to do it, too. It’s an HaVy, fiWWinJ JHVWuUH IRU an unas­sum­ing hero whose one small step, while not the gi­ant leap we once thought, ap­peared, for an ex­cit­ing mo­ment, to show us the way to the fu­ture.

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Joe Bar­ron

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