Neil Armstrong, the astronaut who took a giant leap for mankind, died on Saturday at the age of 82. Reserved and shy, Armstrong always insisted that he wasn’t a hero despite some fairly heroic acts.
The unflappable commander of Apollo 11, he braved a mission that he thought had only 50-50 odds of landing on the Moon, and a decent chance of never returning home. And when he realized that the original lunar landing site was untenable, he took over from the computer to manually find a new site and set down—while fuel supplies ticked away. After returning to Earth, Armstrong’s natural reserve didn’t stop him from reaching out and sharing his experience, even after he retired from NASA to teach at the University of Cincinnati.
But these aren’t the only reasons why we continue to label the first man on the moon a hero. It’s because when Armstrong took that one small step on the Moon, every human on Earth—even those who hadn’t been born yet—took it with him. Poring over his photographs of the trip, we can look at the Earth from afar, a bright jewel floating serenely in the blackness of space, and know simultaneously that we are insignificant specks and amazing creatures, capable of reaching across space to set foot on another world.
Image courtesy of NASA / AP