Neil Armstrong (left of centre) once commented to a journalist that when he was on the moon, he could shrink Earth (Father Ted style) to a space no larger than his thumb. ‘And did that make you feel big?’ the journalist responded. ‘No, it made me feel small,’ was Armstrong’s response.
On July 20th, Neil Armstrong became the first man to plant a foot on the moon. The iconic achievement of the 1960’s which provided one of the defining quotes of the century, never came attached to a famous face – that was Armstrong’s choice. A promise made by Kennedy, kept by Johnson, and delivered by Nixon came to represent America’s most singular achievement since its own independence and its biggest statement of intent as the most powerful nation on the planet – the very planet that one of its citizens was now able to hide behind a thumb.
As well as landing a piece of kit that contained less technology than a crap mobile phone, maybe Armstrong’s second greatest achievement was ensuring that he himself did not become a pop culture icon, but that a man in a spacesuit did, a powerful enough image for MTV to use heavily in their launch many years later.
Within weeks of the landing, the Charles Manson murders brought a symbolic end to the 1960s, so soon after the decade’s exploding possibilities had been symbolically realised with Apollo 11’s moon landing. However, as much as the Manson murders remain an icon of the 1960s, Armstrong’s words and Apollo 11s achievement now reach far beyond a decade and a moment in time.
Instead, Armstrong’s slightly bumbled line and his tentative adjustment to zero gravity have come to symbolize the furthest boundary a human being has ever physically ventured. The budget that funded the enterprise was probably secured on the grounds of shallow cold war vanity but its outcome produced a far deeper significance.
That and a load of nonsense conspiracy theories.
We may never reach as far again.
“Tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…. And one fine morning —
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. “
The Great Gatsby
Neil Armstrong, August 5th, 1930 – August 25th, 2012