Last month, Neil Armstrong died. It has been decades since Armstrong has been in the news, so younger folk may be excused for connecting him with the recently disgraced bicycle dude with the same last name. Neil Armstrong was an icon for my generation. We all grew up wanting to be astronauts. This guy wasn’t just an astronaut, he went to the moon and walked on it! Despite what Ralph Kramden always threatened (“To the moon, Alice!”), those of us who came of age in the 1960s thought that would be the coolest thing we could do.
Then, as now, Armstrong had his detractors. Some ridiculed him for muffing his famous line: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” More recently, researchers have raised the possibility that Armstrong did add the “a” in the appropriate place, but it was lost in the relatively primitive radio transmission system of that day. Buzz Aldin, his moonwalking companion, has always maintained that Armstrong said, “That’s one small step for a man …” Others have recently pooh-poohed Armstrong and Aldrin for their lack of courage in exploring the moon while there. It is said that if we can imagine their lunar module landing on the pitcher’s mound of a baseball field, they would have never gotten much beyond the infield. But the pair were military officers and followed planned protocol and therefore their orders. They were on the moon’s surface for about 2 1/2 hours, 150 minutes. It was not the time or place for a long hike.
Perhaps the most stinging criticism of Armstrong at the time was that he was a manufactured hero, a product of the program. He was just one of a dozen men who might have been chosen for the distinction of being the first human to walk on the moon, and therefore deserves no special recognition. I think this has a ring of truth, but is very misplaced. Certainly Armstrong did not build or fund the rocket and spacecraft that took him to the moon, but he had the necessary courage and skill to accomplish the mission. He was chosen because of who he was, not by default. The most famous explorers in American history, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were chosen by President Jefferson for their task and they exceeded all expectations.
Armstrong was always private about his faith. Some have claimed he was a deist because he was a man who believed both in God and in science. Others have even claimed he converted to Islam later in life. But there are stories of his faith in Jesus. A little remembered mini-event in the first moon landing was that Buzz Aldrin had brought a small container with bread and wine, and celebrated the Lord’s Supper before exiting the spacecraft. It is reported that Armstrong merely watched and did not participate, but as the commander of the flight, he certainly could have disallowed this act.
Let us remember this courageous man, this great American, who served his country in a way none of us will ever do. The only thing I really want to debunk about him is the Michael Jackson version. I don’t think he walked backwards on the moon. He took his small steps and giant leaps in the forward direction.
Nebraska Christian College