Neil Armstrong didn’t want to be known as a hero. He gave the credit to the famous Apollo landing’s success to the crew on the ground that monitored and designed their equipment. He retired quietly in 1971, just two years after the moon landing, to teach aerospace engineering at the University of Cincinnati.
The year 1969 was brimming with change. A social, civil and technological revolution was taking the world by storm. America was in an embittered cold war with the USSR, and a much more violent “policing action” with Vietnam. Color television had only just become standard and cable TV had yet to be invented.
On July 20, 1969, running on rocket fuel and a prayer, the Apollo 11 spacecraft landed on the rocky, cold surface of the moon. The event was televised and the world watched as 24 hours later Neil Armstrong uttered the now infamous words, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
The thing most amazing about this mission is the fact that the computing power of an average calculator today has more computing power than the most advanced equipment in 1969. The Apollo 11 mission was basically an airtight capsule jettisoned into space, depending solely on the equations and propulsion diagrams made by the mathematicians below. The technological advances made by the NASA department in the ‘60s made technology what it is today.
What is failed to be realized is the risk that was taken to make these advances possible. What is even worse is the confusion and the dissonance after the death of a man whose footprints still linger on the surface of the biggest object in our sky other than the sun. Armstrong traveled 238,857 miles in cramped, dangerous conditions only to be remembered by people confusing him for Lance Armstrong or Neil Patrick Harris.
The technology created by NASA through the Apollo missions may be the downfall of the heroes who helped to create it. The Internet, for example, was full of misnomers for Armstrong’s death, and faulty claims of the death of other celebrities that shared a near-similar name. Things like this only perpetuate the stereotype that kids are stupid and don’t care. Which isn’t necessarily untrue, but it does leave a gaping hole for the kids who do care.
Further damage is done by the ageism of the older generation on the young. The number of times I’ve personally heard someone say “you’re too young to know who this is” this week is almost a smack in the face. This, to me, is just a layman’s way of saying “I’m smarter than you.”
Knowledge does come with experience, and experience comes from learning. Instead of mocking the younger generation, educate them. No one will remember Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins if we don’t tell them why they should be remembered. Once educated, if the lesson doesn’t seem to sink in, mock them until they cry.