A hero to US aviation

America has lost one of its most enduring heroes with the death last week of Neil Armstrong, the first human to set foot on the moon.

Has it really been 43 years since that momentous day in space exploration, when Armstrong stepped from the lunar landing craft, Eagle, and said: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”?

Historians note that Armstrong’s moonwalk, joined by fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin, will be remembered as one of the most memorable events in human history. In the 20th century, it is rivalled only by the creation and detonation of the atomic bomb.

Those first steps on the moon were viewed by more than 600 million people, which was about one out of every five people alive on Earth at the time. A satellite launched just prior to the lunar landing made the broadcast possible, ushering in a new era of global mass media that has grown exponentially since then.

The accomplishment of the Apollo 11 mission cannot be overstated. It culminated the United States space race with its arch Cold War enemy, the Soviet Union. And it capped a goal set earlier in the 1960s by then-President John F. Kennedy, who pledged to send a man to the moon before the end of the decade.

Armstrong’s achievement, made possible by an amazing pool of talent and teamwork at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, will never be forgotten. Nor will the man who embodied the spirit and courage of those Apollo space pioneers.

Armstrong could have come home and basked in the fame and fortune of a true American idol. But after the parades and world tour for the three Apollo 11 astronauts, Armstrong quietly slipped out of the limelight. An engineer by trade, he served the space program he so dearly loved as an administrator, then later became a university professor and member of a number of corporate boards.

As a young pilot, prior to the race to the moon, Armstrong feared aviation history had passed him by when Charles Yeager broke the sound barrier as pilot of the rocket-powered Bell X-I.

Little did he know at the time that his place in aviation history would be unparalleled by those two hours and 19 minutes he spent as the first human to walk on the moon.