The news cycle of obituaries sometimes seems all too routine. We get the news that someone has passed away, find the most notable accomplishments of his or her life, write our articles, share our pictures, and within a day or two we move on. For good or bad it is the way death in the media is processed.
But the death of Neil Armstrong is harder to churn into that cycle. His moon landing harkens back to a moment that unified us as a country. His death is not just one of a humble man from Wapakoneta, Ohio, who served in the army in Korea, became a test pilot, then entered the astronaut program in the late 1950s. Paul Harris of The Guardian writes that “there are expressions of regret that no human has been back to the moon since 1972.” He points out that NASA has had to modify its efforts in light of smaller budgets and changing times. Harris states that the human element is lacking from today’s achievements. He is correct; it’s hard to have a ticker-tape parade for a rover that never comes back to earth.
Harris’ focus is on NASA, but I think his point has deeper societal implications. It speaks to the heart of the morale of the country and how we need to improve it. JFK assigned NASA with a clear goal in the early 1960s: land a man on the moon by the end of the decade. It may have been motivated by a space race with the Russians, but it was a noble peaceful effort aimed at making a great achievement, one Americans could stand united in their desire to accomplish together. All you have to do is look at the parades and celebrations of the astronauts after the moon landing and see the excitement. It made us proud to be Americans.
1969 was certainly not a time in which the country was unified overall, in fact quite the opposite was true. The country and its leaders struggled to define its goals in an overseas war. Leaders were never able to communicate them succinctly to the public, and ticker-tape parades were never organized for our soldiers when they came back to their country after fighting so bravely in it.
What is NASA’s goals for today? What are our goals as a nation today? What are our goals for ourselves? We all tend to look at things too often in terms of results and not enough in terms of goals. I am guilty of it myself. If you want to discover why the moon landing was such a great accomplishment, look back to JFK and his establishing it as an objective in the early 60s. As a people and a nation, if we want to achieve events as monumental as the moon landing, we need to take a good hard look at defining what our goals are and what we intend to achieve by accomplishing them.
Link to The Guardian Piece neil-armstrong-passing-us-yearning-glory - By Paul Harris