Neil Armstrong’s Death Marks the End of an Era

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The Big Picture
by Glynn Wilson

Reading the obituaries for Neil Armstrong over the past couple of days, I’m reminded again of the month when I came kicking early into this world.

If timing means anything, it was an auspicious moment in the history of science, since the Cold War era “space race” began on Oct. 4, 1957 with the launch of Sputnik 1, the old Soviet Union’s satellite that is said to have “sent shock waves around the world.”

The shock waves weren’t real, of course, except as it concerns human emotion. I was too young to know.

But year’s later I ran across this issue of Life magazine in a retail mall and had to pay at least four times the original retail value to get the copy. (More below)


According to Armstrong’s AP obit, his big moment of fame — the moonwalk on July 20, 1969 — marked America’s victory in that space race. Although it appears China is the up and comer now and the Russians are still there.

It is one of the most famous events in human history. A reported 600 million people, a fifth of the world’s population at the time, watched it on television or heard in on the radio. That remains the largest audience for any single event ever.

It was president John F. Kennedy who set us on that course in May 1961, shortly after Alan Shepard became the first American in space after Soviet cosmonaut Yuri A. Gagarin had orbited the Earth and beaten the U.S. into space the previous month.

“I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth,” Kennedy said. “No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important to the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”

Armstrong commanded the Apollo 11 in perhaps the most daring scientific expedition of the 20th century. He is now remembered for his words after becoming the first person to set foot on the lunar surface.

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” Armstrong said.

He is remembered as a modest, soft-spoken engineer who became a global hero. He died Saturday at the age of 82, and with him dies an era in human advancement.

The second half of the 20th Century was an amazing time to be alive, arguably one of the most tumultuous times in human events.

The Baby Boomer generation witnessed the great hope and optimism of the 1950s embodied in Kennedy’s words come to life, then watched the hope fade with both Kennedy assassinations and the murder of Martin Luther King. We lived through the era of “free love and dope,” and watched America lose its first war in Vietnam after the impeachment and resignation of the president who both escalated it and ended it.

A time for “drugs, sex and rock ‘n’ roll” gave way to the bizarre election of conservative California actor Ronald Reagan, the beginning of the demise for America’s contribution to human advancement and the devolution of our native culture, if not our species.

Sure, we made something of a comeback in the Clinton era, witnessing the dramatic increase in human productivity through the advancement of computer technology and the rise of the Internet.

Since that time the United States as a people have taken a leap back in time. As the saying goes, one step forward, two steps back.

For some this is not a conscious choice. Half the people seem to live in the constant vortex of a reactionary stroke. The other half want to move forward, but many don’t seem to know how.

But they will have a choice in less than three months when they choose to go to the polls or not on Nov. 6, 2012.

The choice seems crystal clear.

Move forward incrementally by voting to give President Obama one more term. Let science and merit gradually improve our government and way of life.

Or vote to go back to an unrealistic, unworkable model of a paranoid religious view of the world only applauded by morons and Republican politicians — along with the tiny cadre of money men who are quite happy to let them exploit the ignorant half of the population for their personal gain.

I don’t know about you, but I did not live my life in the most important scientific period in human history to sit by and watch my country teeter back to a religious and economic dark age.

Did you?

Maybe the Romney crowd will learn a thing or two about science when the Republican convention in Tampa, Florida is inundated by a flood from Hurricane Isaac. In spite of all the Twitter and Facebook jokes about god’s wrath and such, this has nothing whatsoever to do with religion.

Mother nature, my friends, is malevolent, baby.

Watch out.

© 2012, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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