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Neil Armstrong on the Apollo 11 anniversary

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I’ve been out all day today, “AFK” as they say, so when I finally got home this evening and went online I was thrilled – and I don’t use the word lightly – to see that Neil Armstrong had written a special piece for Space.com to commemorate and celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing.

Why was I so excited? Well, Neil Armstrong has been famously/infamously hard to talk to since July 1969, and has gained something of a reputation as a recluse, someone who would apparently rather just not talk about his Apollo experiences and leave it all in the past. It’s a pretty safe bet that if you sit down to watch a TV documentary or a movie about the Apollo program, an interview with every living Apollo astronaut except Armstrong will be in it. Same goes for books, magazine articles, etc, etc. Getting the First Man to talk about being the First Man is like getting Gordon Brown to give a straight answer to a question at PMQs – impossible.

So, when I saw that Neil Armstrong had not just spoken to but written something FOR Space.com I have to admit I did a little mental happy dance. Surely that meant he “gets” the incredible significance of this anniversary, and wants to play at least a small part in the celebrations! I thought as I looked for the link..

At last! I thought, clicking excitedly on the link, having found it, he’s going to open up a bit, say something personal, let that guard down a bit and say something from the heart…

Then I read:

http://www.space.com/news/090710-apollo11-40th-neil-armstrong.html

Sigh……………………………………………………….

Ok, before I go any further, I have to make it absolutely polished crystal clear here that I have nothing but the greatest, the greatest admiration and respect for Neil Armstrong, ok? So don’t write nasty comments or attack me for what I’m about to say. I mean, who in their right mind wouldn’t have immense respect for Neil Armstrong? He was the First Man, the first human being to set foot on the surface of another world! He guided Eagle down to a safe landing in the Sea of Tranquility, and literally changed the course of human history! He is a genuine, no doubt about it hero, and we all owe him a great deal.

But…

Well… ok, I’ll just come out and say it. I can’t help but wish he wasn’t so damned cold and, well, Vulcan about it all, you know?

Oh come on, I can’t be the only person who thinks this, surely? I must just be saying what a lot of other people think but feel uncomfortable saying outloud, right? I’m not attacking him saying this, absolutely not, but… well… oh, I don’t know, I just wish that once, just once, he’d let us in! I know, I know, it’s his right to be a private, quiet person, he earned that right by doing what he did, and it’s obvious he’s a very gentle, very quiet, very humble man, a gentleman in every sense of the word. But oh, how I long for him to just pull back the Iron Armstrong curtain just a little and show some emotion about what he did and what he achieved..!

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not asking for him to walk onto a stage at the 40th anniversary celebrations, grab the mike and shout “Goddamn! I walked on the Moon! Woo-hoo!!!!” like Eminem. I’m not asking for him to turn into Sally Field, to break down in tears, grab Buzz Aldrin by the arms and sob uncontrollably into his shoulder. I’m not even asking to hear him laugh! All I want is to hear him sound just a little excited, a little moved, a little in awe – or even just a little proud – of what he achieved, as he said, for all Mankind.

Is that wrong of me? Is that selfish? Am I being ungrateful or churlish? If it sounds that way then I’m sorry, that’s certainly not my intention, but seriously, the Space.com piece – which could have been really great, really moving and personal – is just a thumbnail sketched timeline of the Space Age – literally a list of space exploration milestones like you would find in the index pages of a good kids book on space. Then he closes with this:

The flights of 40 years ago were among the most exciting in the history of spaceflight. We can expect a number of retrospective articles and television broadcasts to focus on this anniversary year. I look forward to remembering that memorable time.

Nooooooo! Neil, come on!! We’re hanging on your every word here, man! “We can expect..”? Ya think?!?!? “…memorable time“? MEMORABLE?!?!?!?!?!

I don’t want to use the word “disappointed”, but I have to. I was very disappointed in that piece. It could have been written by a Cylon centurion, it’s so lifeless. If it had just contained a few words telling us how he’s feeling now, or how he felt then, I’d have been delighted, I really would. If he’d just come out and said “I was proud to be the first man on the Moon…” or “I still remember how beautiful Tranquility Base looked as I stepped off the ladder…” or “I can still feel my boot pressing down into the lunar dust…” or “Looking back I wish I’d slapped Buzz on the head until he took my ****** picture properly…” I’d have shouted “YES!!!” and loved it! But sadly there was nothing like that. There’s not a single fact or thing in there that I dicn’t know already.

It will sound horrendously ungrateful, I know, but in all honesty I’d much rather he hadn’t written anything at all than written that, because it only reinforces his image as being cold and unemotional about the triumphs of Apollo. I know he’s not really, you do too, but that’s because we know his back story. But many, many people Out There in non space enthusiast world don’t know that, and I’m sure many of them, having read that, will have thought “Well hell, if he can’t get excited about what he did, then why should I..?”

Hey… here’s a thought… maybe there’s more, and better, to come? Maybe he’s saving himself. Maybe he will really open up on the Big Day of the anniversary at whatever grand ceremony NASA is planning. I hope so. Oh, I hope so. because what a joy it would be to see him, well, happy about what he did! What an absolute delight it would be to see him, standing there, smiling a beaming smile as he tells us how much he loved being on the Moon and how much it meant to him.

Here’s another thought. The smart money seems to be on NASA releasing, on July 20th, an image of the Apollo landing site as seen by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, showing, if all goes well, actual Apollo 11 hardware standing on the Moon. In my mind I have a lovely image of Neil Armstrong, standing on stage, being presented with a framed copy of that picture. He looks at it, stares into it for several moments, lost in thought, and when he looks up again he says “I was there… and it was wonderful…!”

Now that would be something, and it would make a tired, weary, cynical world, which is painfully and tragically short of heroes, fall in love with Neil Armstrong.

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12 Responses

  1. Yes I agree with you. We need people of his ultra rare experience to motivate our youth to reach for the stars. Or at least to Mars. Maybe his experience transcends words so completely that Neil just can’t express it.

  2. I’m not a conspiracy believer, BUT, this would give me question to wonder if we did go to the Moon. Why so cold Mr. Armtsrong?

  3. I’m sure part of the reason that Armstrong was selected as the commander for Apollo 11 was his cold, calculating and efficient manner. It clearly served Apollo 11 well. It has not, however, served NASA post Apollo 11 very well.

    In a sense, it’s like he got it half right. Surely he got the hardest and most important part right. But the aftereffects of what was accomplished are important as well. He could be a great leader in our return to distant bodies, but chooses not to be.

  4. We all are very different people, some show excitement on the outside, some not. I think it what’s inside of us matters.

  5. I agree wholeheartedly. Glad to see someone else expressing exactly what I’m seeing too. It’s soo creepy, something is definitely wrong & has been from the beginning.

    Did you see the first press conference with him & Buzz & the other guy after they got back? Their faces do the talking for them– “LIES, we’re lying, this isn’t the truth, it’s all a sham, we’re being forced to say what we’re saying & we’re very uncomfortable sitting here doing this”.

    Notice how the camera zooms in on Neil’s face to avoid the mustachioed guy’s sheepish pleading looks behind him. I’m guessing they were on strong medication also, but that doesn’t begin to explain their behavior. Lots of fear — either fear of having to lie in public, or fear of something else. I’ll guess they are sworn to secrecy; that the US gov’t staged this (or has other things about the mission to hide) & told them ‘you are real heroes, see you stopped the Cold War, stopped the USSR from pursuing its space program, you served your country by doing this, it’s now your job to remain silent for the rest of your lives OR ELSE.

    Buzz Aldrich’s mother committed suicide just before the mission, supposedly because she couldn’t handle the thought of how famous he would be when he got back — did she know?? Did the stress of the secret break up their marriages, etc.? I would guess YES. Fits much better than ‘visits to the moon just do that to people’ theory.

    I’ve studied how our faces give us away, how the FBI uses facial cues to know if someone is lying. These fellas are LYING.

    Then look at the 25th anniversary clip of Neil actually speaking (rare) — again, very uncomfortable, weird language about ‘truth’s covers’ someday being removed? When he’s done, he purses his lips together in a straight line and sits down quite relieved– as if to say ‘nope, I ain’t talkin, the real story will go to the grave with me, I’ve done my duty to my country!’

    Add that to the ‘unfortunate loss’ of the original NASA tapes of the first moon landing — hah, SURE they were erased & used again — yeah right. If they were for real, scientists would be gleaning ever more deeper data from them right up to the present as they do with each & every picture sent back from Hubble etc. Scientists pore over those things for YEARS knowing that new testing methods reveal more data as time goes on. Video footage would have even more use.

    the whole thing STINKS.

  6. He was a test pilot; an engineer. He wasn’t a poet, a director, or a painter. I’ve heard him talk about his experiences with such detail and compassion, but I’m sure after 40 years the cliche questions that every news reporter asks gets tiring. “What’d it feel like to bounce around hehehe wewewe hahaha”.

    Unlike his counterpart, Buzz Aldrin, he publically proclaimed that he refused to jump into the public spotlight and rake in the cash for being a single part of a 400,000 man effort. I respect him completely for that decision. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very happy Buzz is drumming up space exploration support…hell, I met Buzz on Wednesday (July 15th) at a book signing and got my copy of ‘Magnificent Desolation’ signed.

    Armstrong saw it as a mission, and not as a philosophical poem about celestial exploration. Check out a book called ‘Voices from the Moon.’ It’s a thick book full of nothing but pictures and thousands of Apollo astronaut quotes. Great read.

  7. I just read another post. You have read ‘Voices from the Moon.’ Highfive 🙂

    I’m currently on watch (in the military) and this website sure is passing the time.

    Thanks 🙂

  8. I think he is just a really shy person that can’t express his emotions very well. That’s different than being cold and calculating.

  9. @i see it too you are not alone:

    You know, you would have more credibility if you mastered basic grammar… Just saying. Actually, no you wouldn’t

  10. What it seems that Mr. Armstrong doesn’t get is that he is the first man on the moon and some day he will die. By not reliving his experiences they will be lost forever, like the original video tapes. There gone and can’t be recovered, just reconstucted.After seeing an Apollo 8 panel disscusion and the jabs and jokes between the astronauts small details emerged that made it a HUMAN experience. Sorry to be so blunt but after watching the NASM Apollo 11 “lecture” I saw 3 guys talking about the history of NASA that we all know. Neil get over yourself and STOP being so damn selfish. We want to know what did you eat on the moon? Did you fart in your suit? Is there anything on the moon that made you stop for a moment and think about something odd? You know stupid stuff that may not seem important to you. but make you the first HUMAN to step on the moon.

  11. Why do you all imagine these negative interpretations of the fact that he’s not a jive fame-seeker, not self-aggrandizing, not a narcissist, not a poser, and not pretentious or egomaniacal enough to take credit for what was, as he outright tells you, the intense effort of 400,000 people, many of whom had much harder jobs than he did.

    If one needs hero worship for oneself that’s fine, but don’t paint your fantasies onto Neil. Odysseus didn’t pontificate or prance for the throngs either; he returned unannounced as a humble beggar, the better to observe the true situation he had returned to…and it became about Penelope in the end didn’t it?

    The fact that Armstrong deals stoically, seriously and extremely honestly with his role and utterly eschews the spotlight IS WHAT MAKES HIM A GREATER HERO than any other. The tawdry ego facade that many comments here seem to expect and crave from him is exactly the thing that a genuinely heroic peak experience should erase from one’s soul forever, dying utterly and leaving in place a naked man with naked wisdom and humility, as it has in Armstrong.

    Neil understands his place perfectly…more perfectly than anyone else ever could. I would respect him far less (or not at all) if he did as so many of you wish. He handled his fame PERFECTLY. There is absolutely no one in my half-century lifetime who has handled great fame so perfectly. The disappointment voiced in comments above is merely a map of the commentators’ own need for illusion or instruction.

    Neil came to one of the most stark realities in human history. There’s no ‘coming back’ from that kind of journey. So, true hero that he is, he became just a man, with no bullshit whatsoever…the delicate dependant bag of water he always was, only now brought to truth as few men have been. Kubrick made a nice movie examining this aspect of astronautics, and David Bowie wrote a nice song about it. “Planet Earth is blue…” …Penelope.

    Like Armstrong, Kubrick got it mostly right in 2001: space is a frozen inhospitable void with some rocks and gas, and a significant proximal military objective, and maybe some weird space brothers too, but we will likely not understand their intentions any better than we understand the intentions of lichens or giant squid or the mushroom gods. Just like in 2001, even if saucer men are out there, nothing indicates whether that’s good or bad or just vertiginously surreal.

    So when it comes to spending trillions searching for supposed extraterrestrial whatever, we should be careful what we wish for (as Poole discovers in 2001). It may not be a good idea at all, as, whadda’ ya’ know, Mr. Armstrong strongly implies. Armstrong is humble and honest – that evidently makes many of today’s Americans uncomfortable, judging by the comments above.

    Neil understands and owns the good truth behind the lemming fantasy of manned deep space exploration: that it is little more than a primped-up ego trip that steals untold mountains of food from Earthbound tables in order to have what is ultimately some stupendously wasteful yet inconsequential superfluous recreation; ‘bungee-jumping’ into infinite un-living nothingness on the backs and dimes of earthlings who are struggling just to put a meal on the table, all while secretly laying the groundwork for an inescapable earthly imperium of orbiting weaponry which will make possible the macro-extortion of the whole planet. Neil mentions this too. I’d listen a lot more carefully to my hero if I were you.

    Neil has it so right. You all have it so wrong.

    • Ivan J needs to understand something:Problems have been happening on earth long before there was space exploration and there would be problems on earth whether there was space exploration or not.That’s what all these”Why is there so much money spent in space when there are so many problems on earth”people don’t understand.

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