Saturday, 25 August 2012

Last Pioneer

Neil Armstrong (1930 – 2012)  
Man on the Moon
It’s difficult for me to write anything coherent about Neil Armstrong’s death. I have a memory of watching the Apollo 11 landing on TV (it was shortly after my eighth birthday), but iconic images of the Moon flights have been broadcast so often that now it is difficult to separate my childhood experience of seeing ‘history being made’, from all the repeats of it in so many documentaries - of the sort I have always been fascinated by. For me, the astronaut’s death feels like a very sad ending to a once promising era of possibility. The Apollo programme was the grandest achievement in history. Will our species ever do anything that great again?   

I always liked Ray Bradbury’s poetic quote about a race standing tall “across the Void, across the Universe and all?” Lately, I wonder if that will ever be us. Armstrong’s own words: ‘one small step for man… one giant leap for mankind” became immortal, but since that all-too-brief age of the greatest optimism, I have become a pessimist. The rocket scientists launch robotic probes to Mars but no manned flights. Armstrong is dead, and there is no Moonbase. There may be a thousand reasons why NASA space programmes of exploration were cancelled or afflicted by cutbacks in funding, but as this new, so frequently science fictionalised, century goes on I can’t see why the lack of effort continues. Has the first person to walk on Mars been born yet?

Today, it’s easy for Hollywood to make space movies about exciting missions to the planets and other stars, but it’s become harder than ever to imagine anything like that actually happening. What are we all waiting for? Was ‘ordinary superman’ Armstrong really the last of his kind?

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