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Spirit of America lived in Armstrong

August 27, 2012
Weirton Daily Times

Neil Armstrong was the product of a time when Americans were encouraged to reach for the stars.

In fact, that's exactly what he did.

Armstrong, who died Saturday at the age of 82, became the first man to walk on the moon on July 20, 1969. That step, accompanied by the immortal words, "That's one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind," capped what was, arguably, man's greatest scientific achievements, and gave the United States a victory in a space race that had started on Oct. 4, 1957, when the then-Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the world's first satellite.

With those steps, Armstrong became the first of only 12 men to walk on the moon, which was not too bad of an achievement for a man who grew up in Wapakoneta, a small western Ohio town. He developed a fascination with flight after taking his first airplane ride at the age of 6, and would get his pilot's license when he was 16, even before he obtained a driver's license.

Aviation played a large role in his life, from flying combat missions in Korea, to piloting the X-15 rocket plane to making the first successful space docking while on Gemini 8 - a maneuver that had to be perfected before the Apollo program could carry humans to the moon.

The successful flight of Apollo 11 - which included astronauts Buzz Aldrin (the second man to walk on the moon) and Michael Collins, who piloted the Columbia while his capsulemates were on the moon -allowed the United States to make good on a promise made by President John F. Kennedy in May 1961 that our country would land a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth.

That effort showed the American spirit at its best, the feeling that anything is possible. Americans showed that they were second to none in developing technology and mathematics and would not let anything get in their way.

We wonder what has happened to that can-do attitude. The last man walked on the moon in 1972, and the space policy of the United States under President Barack Obama has placed less importance on a return to the moon through NASA and more emphasis on private development of space travel.

Armstrong himself joined other Apollo-era space veterans in referring to the plan as "a misguided proposal that forces NASA out of human space operations for the foreseeable future."

An entire generation remembers the thrill and excitement of gathering around the family television set during the summer of 1969 and watching intently as Armstrong took those first steps from the ladder of the lunar module. There was a feeling that, for all the other troubles we faced at the time - the war in Vietnam, for instance -that we could take pride in being Americans, that there was nothing we couldn't do if we set our minds to it.

It's a sense of awe and excitement that was rekindled just a few weeks ago as we watched the unmanned Curiosity begin its exploration of Mars.

Armstrong's steps should serve as reminders of that feeling, and should continue to inspire Americans to go beyond what seems impossible, and to once again reach for the stars.

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