As a 12-year-old completely immersed in our nation's manned space program, I knew I was witnessing history as I watched Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon.
What I couldn't appreciate as a boy in 1969 was the broader context within which the moon landing took place: the Vietnam War; the fresh wounds of the Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. assassinations; and the Cold War that underlay the space program itself. Yet it was also the days of the "go-go" economy and Apollo, when even the sky wasn't the limit. We were a big, strong country with the vision and will to do really big things. Armstrong personified that.
Rest in peace, Mr. Armstrong. Those whom you inspired have never stopped believing in that strong, confident America.
People wondered why Armstrong shunned public appearances. His behavior was similar to Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax.
Both men were the best at what they did. Both accomplished things no average person could do. And when they were done, they were done; neither needed public admiration to remind them of their greatness.
But on those rare occasions when they emerged from their private lives, we were treated to seeing the best. We still have Koufax, but Armstrong remains only in our memories.
Armstrong's work shows us the possibilities of exploration and science.
Budgets are tight, but we must continue to invest in the science that inspired another generation to reach for the moon and advanced countless technological leaps for those who were never going to set foot on the moon. We were the leaders in exploration and science, and we can continue to be with strategic investments.
As the recent landing on Mars showed us, Americans still haven't given up dreaming about the stars.
Steven M. Clayton