In the gift shops of Star City, Russia, you can buy the statues of two great pioneers. Yuri Gagarin, the first human to leave the Earth and Neil Armstrong the first person to set foot upon the moon. The world lost Yuri very soon after his accomplishment; we have now lost the second great icon of humanity's quest for the stars.
We are fortunate enough to be living in a time of a new renaissance of space exploration. "Curiosity" has just landed on Mars to the attentive eyes of a new generation inspired to reach far beyond the Earth. New fleets of spaceships from traditional capsules to mini shuttles and even exotic fully reusable ships are now being built. Safety is increasing and costs are dropping, a new dawn of governmental exploration, commercial exploitation and private utilization is upon us.
While space travel today is far from being as safe as a trip aboard a modern airliner, it has come a long way from the first decade that started with Gagarin's flight in 1961 and Armstrong's foot on the moon in 1969. In that first decade, the expected probabilities of failures which would end with the loss of human life were very high. In fact, both in the USA and Russia, that first decade saw a large percentage of early explorers lost in the quest for space.
Neil Armstrong was a true explorer in the finest sense. He coolly faced great peril and unknown in order to push the boundaries of humanity far beyond its previous limits. While Armstrong may have been lucky to be the one from NASA's talented Astronaut core to be selected for Apollo XI, he accomplished the task, with great skill and grace. Few alive on the Earth when he first stepped foot on the moon, can forget the image or words of that first "Small Step."
Through the years since then, Armstrong has shunned the spotlight, his natural shyness kept him far from the limelight. Few of us have had the chance to get to know him in spite of his fateful legacy. Yet none can doubt the power his legacy has had on the first space generation. As NASA administrator Charlie Bolden has noted, "As long as there are history books, Neil Armstrong's name will be in them."
We now look forward to the next generation of heroes to follow in his bold footsteps!