Neil Armstrong: hero for all mankind, his death a symbol of American decline

In death of first Moonwalker, world reflects on the end of an American era

By Nicholas Nehamas

A Nepalese man in Lalitpur reads a newspaper with a portrait of Armstrong, who died August 24th at the age of 82. (Reuters)

On July 20th, 1969, 600 million Earthlings watched Neil Armstrong land on the Moon. The astronaut became a hero not just to Americans, but to all mankind. Armstrong’s death has prompted sympathy from around the world as we remember his one “small step.” But it’s also led some writers to wonder if Armstrong represents a level of accomplishment that the United States is struggling to maintain.

Latitude News brings you a round-up of the best pieces on Armstrong and his legacy.

 

  • As Apollo 11 landed on the surface of the moon, J. Brooks Spector ignored his job at the front desk of a hotel. The American diplomat turned South African resident remembers being mesmerized by the black-and-white images of something unthinkable: a man walking on the Moon. “In a way that had been impossible to anticipate,” he writes, “the Moon landing became the most extraordinary, startling moment for humans, who looked back at their home world through Armstrong and Aldrin’s eyes to see that shining ‘pale blue marble’ . . . in the Moon’s inky black sky. A thumb could obscure the entirety of the human race and all its works.” (The Daily Maverick, South Africa)
  • Meanwhile, the British science writer Michael Hanlon laments the fact that America didn’t send more Moonwalkers into space. “My belief,” he argues, “is that Apollo was simply a programme out of its time, a dead-end simply because it came 50, maybe even 100 years too early. We went to the Moon and simply didn’t know what to do next, just as the Vikings discovered America half a millennium before they should.” If only we’d sent a poet or an artist, he writes, along with the pilots and scientists, then perhaps the American public would have come to see the Apollo missions as something meaningful to their lives. (The Independent, Ireland)
  • Armstrong and his fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin left a plaque among the moon rocks. It read: “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon. July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.” But the Canadian journalist Paul Koring has a more cynical view. He sees the plaque’s message as “fond sentiment rather than geopolitical reality.” According to Koring, the space race was hardly the noble quest for science and discovery we remember. In fact, he argues, it was just another extension of our Cold War rivalry with the Soviet Union. “For all the billing of a ‘giant leap for mankind,’ and the bags of space rocks,” he writes, “the moon race wasn’t about science or shared endeavour. It was a contest, a deadly serious game played out with multistage rockets evolved from the same intercontinental ballistic missiles poised to obliterate the planet in mutually-assured destruction.” (The Globe and Mail, Canada).
  • Paul Harris notes how the death of Armstrong has inspired a “yearning for America’s past glories.” 50 years ago, we sent a man to the moon. Today, as one critic he cites points out, Congress can’t even pass an annual budget. Armstrong himself was deeply upset by the end of America’s manned space program. Today, NASA argues that rovers like the one that recently landed on Mars have more potential for scientific discovery than manned voyages like Apollo. They’re cheaper and safer too. But how will Americans react if the next person to walk on the moon is Chinese? (The Guardian, England)
On a lighter note, watch this funky music video about Armstrong and his moon landing from the Australian publication Crikey: