On Neil Armstrong (1930-2012)
Before becoming the human medium through whom America placed its bootprint on the Moon, Neil Armstrong had already braved his share of disastrous and semi-disastrous high-risk predicaments. He’d had his plane shot down in Korea and had had his engine fail, too, as a test-pilot back home. He knew what it was to be in dire emergencies, the hardware and all other contingencies failing to abide by the mission’s plan. He always made the best of these situations, and lived to touch death once more, all over again and every time. That’s the kind of grace and know-how he brought with him up to the Moon, even if he also brought along a heartbeat that, during Apollo 11‘s first stage, reached the unreal rate of 110 beats per minute. After returning from the Moon, he embarked on the enviable life of adventurer-emeritus. Professor of aeronautics, pitchman of Chrysler cars, speaker of speaches, sitter of corporate boards, and investigator of accidents in space–he fully inhabited the privilege his expertise and dare-devilry had earned him. It must have been a fascinating life, but the man who lived it could hardly have been less fascinating. Without his jets to animate him, he was the living embodiment of Emerson’s warning that “All power ceases in the instant of repose.” He had no political ideas cherished enough to publicly advocate for, and no culture or writings worthy of those names. No one could ever say Armstrong was some hippy-dippy dreamer with his head lost in the clouds. His leaps of faith occurred exclusively in the sky, and there were no leaps left worth making by the time he returned to Earth. A more passionate, more excitable heart would have beat much faster than 110 bpm up in that shuttle–except that the more excitable heart would, of course, have never made it into the shuttle in the first place.
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