While humans have been dreaming of flight since the dawn of time, it wasn’t until the turn of the nineteenth century that the Wright brothers achieved that magical 59 second flight covering 852 feet, skimming over the beach not more than twenty feet off the ground. The new science of flight and aeronautics was born and after thousands of years of dreaming about flight, it only took another two and a half decades to coin the term astronaut (and the related cosmonaut) and set the bar higher for flight. A combination of two Ancient Greek words aster meaning star and nautes meaning a sailor, an astronaut was a sailor of stars.
More than that though, these early pioneers of both space and technology became heroes of popular imagination. They inspired generations of young boys and girls into science and technology and the technology derived from the space program has enriched our everyday lives from breakfast foods to automobile safety.
And it was only a couple of decades later that Yuri Gagarin, a 27 year old Major in the Russian Air Force left the Earth’s atmosphere and began the Space Age. Less than a decade would pass before an American became the first man on the moon when Neil Armstrong took his famous step. This week Neil Armstrong died at the age of 82. Among the extremely elite group of people dedicated and privileged enough to call themselves astronauts, Neil Armstrong stood higher than the rest. Of the many ‘firsts’ that the various space programs around the world have given us, Neil Armstrong’s was, is and always will be the most significant. He was the first man to step on ground not of this earth. At his passing his family asked for something small and simple: “For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.”
Photo of Neil Armstong at the time of the Lunar landing courtesy NASA.