Reporting the death of the first man on the moon, NBC inadvertently referred to him as “Astronaut Neil Young.” Hence, “After the Gold Rush”:
Well, I dreamed I saw the silver space ships flying
In the yellow haze of the sun …
But the real story, of course, is the passing of a genuine American hero:
Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, died Saturday.
He was 82 and lived in Cincinnati. His death was announced by his family in a statement, but it did not say where Mr. Armstrong died.
As commander of the Apollo 11 mission, Mr. Armstrong, with one short sentence on July 20, 1969, became a hero to the millions of people watching back on earth.
The words he spoke upon stepping onto the lunar surface — “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” — were beamed live into homes around the world, captivating viewers and immediately and indelibly becoming a symbol of America’s resolve and ingenuity in its race against the Soviet Union for supremacy in space.
It was a singular achievement for humanity and the culmination of a goal that President John F. Kennedy had set eight years earlier with his bold statement: “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.”
If you weren’t around in July 1969, or you’re not old enough to remember it, it’s hard to explain what that event meant to people at the time. I was very young – only seven – but it stands out as one of the clearest memories of my otherwise misspent youth. My whole family spent endless hours in front of our black-and-white TV set, tracking the progress of Apollo 11 from lift off on the morning of July 16 to Neil Armstrong’s first step on the lunar surface around 10:00 p.m. Chicago time on July 20, all the way through the capsule’s splash down in the Pacific Ocean on July 24.
For a seven year old, the process was both agonizingly slow and yet magical in a way I can’t really explain. Forty-three years later, I can still put myself in my parent’s backyard on the night of July 20, 1969, sitting in the dark staring up at the moon, knowing they were up there, waiting desperately for the lunar module’s door to open so they could finally step out onto the moon’s surface … and realizing that we were actually living not just history but science fiction.
It was the greatest achievement in human history, and it was unfolding right up there.
Interestingly enough, when the Apollo 11 crew returned to earth, none of them took sole credit that achievement, and no one in America imagined that the moon landing was something that could have been accomplished without an enormous collective effort on the part of individuals, the government, and private enterprise, working together, funded by tax dollars, and supported by the public as a whole.
We all knew it, and we all celebrated it: We built that.
Godspeed, Mr. Armstrong. Maybe someday Americans find away to do something great together, just like we did in 1969.