September 10, 2012
Hearing the news of Neil Armstrong’s death, we thought of what an admirer once said of the late poet Elizabeth Bishop — that her most remarkable gift was her genius, despite being extraordinary, for impersonating an ordinary person.
That pretty much sums up Armstrong, an American who had — but did not indulge — bragging rights as the first human to walk on the man.
In our current celebrity culture, many people of more modest accomplishment — or, for that matter, no accomplishment at all — cultivate their fame by starring in tacky reality shows and making fools of themselves in the tabloids.
But that wasn’t Armstrong’s way. After securing a place for himself in history, Armstrong retired from the limelight and led a relatively quiet life teaching engineering and working in business.
Armstrong’s modesty reminded Americans that the exploration of space was a collaborative effort in which no single person could reasonably claim all of the glory. In his later years, Armstrong lamented that federal spending on space exploration had waned.
We share that worry. The best way to honor Armstrong’s legacy, we believe, is to restore space exploration to its rightful place as a national priority.