It was William Shakespeare who wrote “Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them”. In the case of Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Alden Armstrong greatness was achieved through dedication, intelligence, and courage; all of which made him one of America’s first astronauts. But it was fate, his place in a schedule of NASA spaceflights, that made him a household name.
Armstrong was a US Naval Officer, astronaut, test pilot, aerospace engineer, and university professor. But it is for being the first person who stepped on the Moon that he will be remembered. Just before leaving the lunar module for the first time he decided what he would say to billions of people on his home planet. And on July 20, 1969 the words “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind” were carved into the history of centuries yet to come.
Armstrong’s first spaceflight was the Gemini 8 mission in 1966. His second trip to space was as mission commander of the Apollo 11 moon landing mission where he and Buzz Aldrin spent 2½ hours exploring the Moon while Michael Collins remained in lunar orbit.
Armstrong was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom along with Collins and Aldrin, the Congressional Space Medal in 1978, and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2009. But for the most part, he spent his post Apollo years in private, rarely speaking in public. Some say his penchant for privacy might even have been to a fault; missing numerous opportunities to steer the nation’s space program. Others say Armstrong stayed away from space politics upholding the dignity of a historical figure.
Many centuries from now our descendants will occupy planetary bodies throughout our solar system. They will live and even thrive on the Moon and Mars. They will live in peace. And when people look back upon us it will not be wars, billionaires, actors, presidents, or kings that they remember. It will be the greatest events in history. It will be the achievements that give our species hope. It will be the extraordinary acts that show how much humankind is capable of. For it is not what Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins did that is important. It is what they showed can be done that will forever give our species hope and a future.