Credit: Newsweek/Bettman-Corbis-AP (via Facebook).
Newsweek Remembers Apollo Astronaut, ‘First Man’
In “The Neil Armstrong You Didn’t Know” (September 10, 2012 issue), Rice University historian Douglas Brinkley tells of his experience meeting Armstrong. Brinkley reminisces about interviewing the astronaut on September 19, 2001 for an oral history. Armstrong is remembered by most as an elusive, humble persona. Brinkley even describes him as an “uncommunicative” conversationalist. But adds:
Whatever the moon meant to Armstrong personally, in the end, wasn’t available for the picking. His opaqueness, however, shouldn’t be misconstrued as aloofness. He correctly understood that over-marketing, bragging, or expressive emotion was beneath the magnitude of his feat.
My favorite part is when he writes:
When I asked Armstrong why the American people seemed to be less NASA-crazed in the 21st century, he had a thoughtful response. “Oh, I think it’s predominantly the responsibility of the human character,” he said. “We don’t have a very long attention span, and needs and pressures vary from day to day, and we have a difficult time remembering a few months ago, or we have a difficult time looking very far into the future. We’re very ‘now’ oriented. I’m not surprised by that. I think we’ll always be in space, but it will take us longer to do the new things than the advocates would like, and in some cases it will take external factors or forces which we can’t control.”
(A PDF of the entire interview can be found on NASA’s website.)
Brinkley gives several insights: Armstrong grew up on a farm without any electricity, longed to go to Mars, and once said, “Pilots take no particular joy in walking. Pilots like flying.” But the title of the article doesn’t really fit the text; we still don’t know the real Armstrong. And as I read on, I thought of my aviator-engineer father — a man of few words and thoughtful introspection about how things in life work. I think Armstrong, similar to my dad, had a lot more going on under the surface than we will ever know or understand.