When I was 6 years old, on a warm July evening, I heard my father yell from inside our house, “Get in here quick and see this!” My brother and I ran inside, and there in our living room, on our black-and-white television, was the grainy image of Neil Armstrong stepping off the lunar excursion module and onto the moon. The excitement I felt that night has stayed with me for life. That my memory of it is so strong, down to the scent of the garden flowers in the air, is something I share with a huge number of the humans who were alive at that moment. The words that Neil chose to say, “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind,” were perhaps truer than anyone could have imagined, for with that footstep, he was carrying us with him.
Mankind became a little bit more that day, a little bigger and bolder and a bit more self-aware — that footprint so tiny against the backdrop of our growing understanding of the universe. With his footstep, Neil made us more, and it is natural that many of us would love him for that. It also must have placed an unimaginable burden on him, the likes of which none of us can know. But that I can only speculate about that burden is a testament to how well he shouldered it. Neil always felt he had been doing a job, just like everyone else. He did that job perhaps better than anyone could have hoped or imagined. Neil Armstrong will be remembered as noble and inspiring, the man chosen to carry us with him, and I will always wink at the moon and remember him.
Steltzner led NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover landing team
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