Neil Armstrong died on August 25th 2012, aged 82.
A good innings, but we’re still shocked and saddened. Why? It’s always sad when people, amazing or no, pass away. But there’s more to this than simply the ending of a life.
His footprints will be on the moon for around 10 million years. Footprints of an Earth-born great ape on our planet’s satellite, 384,400 kilometers (238,855 miles) away from us. An astounding achievement, whether you think space exploration is “worth it” or not. I had never even disconnected myself from the planet for more than a jump until I was 24 and I got on a plane to Russia. People have left the planet altogether and looked back at it.
I never knew Mr Armstrong, obviously. His family did. His friends did. I could not and would not attempt to write any kind of fitting tribute. I wasn’t even born when the moon landing happened, but of course I’ve seen it and when I recently watched a long version at the Winchester Science Festival, I really teared up. It’s a genuinely awesome and inspiring feat.
Last night I, and many others, found myself a lot more saddened than expected. I’ve listened to lots of introspective music, I’ve read many tributes, and my mind is wandering. So I’d like to share some of that. Sorry it’s a bit disjointed.
I grew up watching Star Trek. The plot revolves around the Federation, a truce between different sentient species, whose aim is to explore and learn. When the first extra-terrestrial race, the Vulcans, came to Earth, everything changed for us; people stopped fighting because we knew we were not alone and there was so much more. The economy as we know it dissolved and we moved on to a different way of life. We went to explore the stars.
I like to think this could happen for us one day. Unfortunately, even seeing our planet suspended in the pitch black canvas of space hasn’t made us wake up. We’re still fighting over pathetic, trivial things.
I’ve recently mused on what it means to try to be a better person. I’ve never had a religion, I’ve never thought it would be useful to me, I’ve never understood it or how its benefits outweigh its damages. I am generally of the view that knowing this one life is all we have should inspire us to make the best of it – and knowing that it’s the same for others should spur you to be considerate of them, too.
Happiness can seem like an unattainable goal, especially if it doesn’t come naturally or easily, but I think it’s a worthwhile one for a lifetime. Life’s not “too short” for anything, if you enjoy it – life is the longest thing any of us will ever know.
This is also, currently, the only planet we have. We don’t treat it well enough. We share it with lots of other kinds of life – what is here could be the only life in the entire universe, in billions of galaxies. Or we could be one group of many. We don’t know yet. But what we should know is that it’s amazing and appreciate it.
I’m sure everyone’s adding this video to their blogpost, but it’s so important.
Earlier I watched some of a fantastic BBC1 programme, Ocean’s Giants. At the end they discussed findings that show dolphins and whales, as well as the great apes and elephants, can be self-aware. At the same time as human babies develop self-awareness, they also develop empathy; emotional intelligence, the ability to interpret and consider the feelings of others. And whales can even do it for a completely different species; for us. It sets us apart from other life forms, but it hasn’t stopped us bringing destruction to them, and to each other, just yet.
We’re all individuals. We will only ever truly know our own experience from our own perspective – and even then it can be very hard to get our heads around that. Sometimes we can get close to other people (and animals) and almost see through another’s eyes. Or into them more deeply than a conversation or simple physical contact would allow. That’s a profound experience that can change you as a person.
If we can’t connect with other people somehow (even if not eye-to-eye, it’s not the only way by any means) then I think we’re missing something. Ignoring our propensity for this special intelligence, a possible means of the universe understanding itself.
Maybe the only way we can get to that point where we live for the sake of living and learning and improving is to explore our cosmic surroundings more. Or maybe not. All I know at this point is that sometimes things remind us of what we are and that’s no bad thing, because if we can really remember that… perhaps we can be better.
I don’t know if I made much of a point with this post, but I wanted to join in with everyone else because I think it’s only fitting. Hattip to my friend @medtek for improving the title over my original choice of ad infinitum, too.
“For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request.
Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.”
Edit: this video came to my attention today and I think it belongs here. It’s long (17 mins or so) but well worth a watch.