08/29/2012 08:02 am ET

Neil Armstrong's Death: A Reminder Of Our Fallen Heroes

On Saturday August 25, 2012, a true American hero lost his life. Neil Armstrong was the first person to bravely leave our world behind and set foot on another. On July 21, 1969, he walked on the moon.

To be a young girl witnessing this amazing--and I don't use that term lightly--this amazing feat would have changed my life in ways unimaginable. But I wasn't alive in 1969. And by the time I even became aware of NASA's existence, a total of twelve people had stepped foot on the lunar surface. They were individual explorers, as are all of the fearless men and women in the space program. But their personal accomplishments mean more to me as a whole. They embody a spirit of exploration, uniting a nation--no, the world--and proving to us just what is possible.

Neil wasn't the only astronaut who passed away this year. On February sixth, Janice Voss, science director for NASA's Kepler Space Observatory, died. She left our planet on five separate occasions to fly in space. And Alan Poindexter, Navy Captain and shuttle pilot on two trips to the international space station, lost his life on July first. On July 23, Sally Ride, the first American woman in space passed away. To this day, she remains the youngest astronaut to leave Earth in her taillights.

Neil, Janice, Alan, Sally, and all of the brave men and women who have contributed to space exploration over the years, this is for you:

I've written this letter to express my debt of gratitude. I can speak only on my behalf, but I cannot fathom that other young minds weren't also inspired by your strength, your courage, and your humility. You represent a spirit of exploration, a hunger for worlds unknown, stories untold, that those who may follow in your footsteps might otherwise be afraid to embrace.

Today we live in a world ravaged by war, poverty, consumption, and greed. Our politicians and leaders are shackled by the weight of superstition, favor, and promises impossible to keep. But you four, you remind us that even in a time of social unrest, even when we fear we've lost our way, our aspirations can be greater than the opposition, we can boldly go into the great beyond, and knowledge, reason--science--can be our guide.

You viewed your own successes modestly. You were reluctant heroes who lead private lives with your families, friends, and loved ones. And although you may not have known it at the time, you made great sacrifices--you risked your lives--for future generations, for people like me, so that we may be inspired to find our candle in the dark. To reach beyond the stars. And for that, I thank you from the bottom of my heart and the depths of my mind.

Many astronauts live their lives quietly, humbly, insisting they're simply doing the job they were called upon to do. This humility was epitomized by Neil Armstrong. Upon his passing, his family issued this statement: "For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink."

Well here's looking at you, Neil. You and all of our fallen heroes will be greatly missed.



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