This week, in addition to the dethroning of Lance Armstrong, erstwhile seven-time Tour de France winner, we mark the passing of Neil Armstrong, the first person to set foot on the moon. Well, not foot exactly. Boot. Which gets into the whole question of what “on the moon” means. He could have stayed inside the ship and still have been “on the moon” about as much as he was in his space suit.
But the more important question is: Why is Neil Armstrong important? There were a bunch of astronauts in the program. Neil just got lucky.
And the astronauts were just there for show anyway. Really, the Apollo program involved thousands of scientists, engineers and normal people. And the Apollo program followed on the heels of Projects Mercury and Gemini, which in turn followed all kinds of other rocketry and space research going back to the first kid to fire a spitball.
Seriously, Neil Armstrong had about as much to do with the moon landing as Harrison Ford did with the creation of Indiana Jones. He got to play the part, but other people came up with the story and did all the planning, engineering and design.
But putting astronauts in made the whole thing sexy. That’s why Kennedy committed us to putting a man on the moon. It could have been a dog or a monkey. In fact, we did put several dogs and monkeys in space, but NASA didn’t really want the moon landing immortalized by the image of the flight crew peeing on the flag pole.
And having people in the space program meant all kinds of research into human survival in hostile conditions, remotely monitoring vital signs, and the invention of Tang and freeze-dried ice cream. So all in all, it was worth it.