Most of you probably know by now that Neil Armstrong died a few days ago. He was the first person to set foot on the moon, and he was in some ways made immortal by his words, “That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.”
I was not quite two when he landed, and I’m told I was awake and watching when it happened, but I have no memory of it. Certainly, though, I grew up in a world where man had walked on the moon, and the next steps beyond seemed imminent. But they never came.
I was going to write a rather sad piece about that lost opportunity, about how in some ways we’ve squandered the last forty years, but I did not want to disrespect those who have given their last measure of devotion to space exploration in that time. John Scalzi managed to walk that fine line better than I could have, so I’ll point you to his remarks.
However, I would like to add one more thing. Neil Armstrong was an engineer. Yes, he was a damned fine pilot, but he also had a degree in aeronautical engineering. He always said he was a nerd, and that all of his NASA accomplishments came from the efforts of other nerds like himself.
My father was one of those nerds, and electrical engineer. He was working at Collins Radio, and they got part of the contract for the Apollo communication system. The piece he designed did not actually go into space. In fact, it wasn’t even part of the groundside receiving system. Instead, it was one of the components that carried the signals between the groundside antennas and mission control.
It was a small part in a piece you might not consider terribly significant, but still, Neil Armstrong’s one small step arrived to the rest of us because my dad did his small part, just like so many others. While Neil provided the step, I think he understood that it was all those nerds who had provided the giant leap.