Is the next Neil Armstrong among us?

Published 6:30 pm Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The world lost a true American hero last Saturday, when Neil Armstrong passed away at the age of 82. No doubt many people still remember where they were on the night that Armstrong took the first step on the moon and proclaimed “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

I, on the other hand, was not alive on July 20, 1969. As my mom is fond of saying, I was still just a “twinkle in her eye.” So I can’t even pretend that I have any authority to talk about how great it was for America to take that technological step. What I know about the moon landing is what I’ve read in books, and seen in documentaries.

However, what I can say is that I hope that there will be many more Neil Armstrongs.

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The one thing that I have always admired, and what I think is often forgotten about Armstrong’s feat, is that there was the very real specter of failure. And in some cases in the world of space exploration, that failure could be fatal — as it was for the three astronauts who were killed in a fire during a training mission for Apollo I, and later those who died in the Challenger and Columbia space shuttle explosions.

I know that NASA had millions of millions of dollars of research put into the moon landing mission, to make sure it was completely safe. But I can’t help and wonder if, in the back of Armstrong’s mind, he wasn’t at least a little worried that all that science might be incorrect. I can’t help but wonder if he was a little worried that the moon might have atmospheric pressure that would crush human bones, or might have a poisonous atmosphere that would seep through his astronaut’s space suit, or a million other worries.

In many ways, it wasn’t just that Armstrong took a giant step for mankind, but he also took a leap of faith.

I hope, and believe, that there are future Neil Armstrongs among us right now, and even more to come. I believe there are those who are willing to take risks, and endure the possibility of failure, to achieve great things. As it’s famously said (whether true or not), Edison had 1,000 mistakes before inventing the light bulb.

It’s one reason why I am especially happy to see that our local school system, the Decatur County Schools, is putting such an emphasis on programs to improve student achievement in science, math, technology and engineering (STEM). There’s no doubt that at least one of Armstrong’s teachers once planted the seed that got him excited in science, so excited that he decided to pursue it as a career.

Who knows, maybe the next Neil Armstrong is attending one of our schools right now. We should encourage our kids to pursue their scientific interests, and encourage them to reach for the stars, as men like Armstrong once did.

Justin Schuver is the managing editor of The Post-Searchlight. You can email him at