Neil Armstrong died yesterday, owing to surgical complications. He was 82 years of age.
Neil Armstrong set foot upon the surface of the Moon on July 20, 1969: 43 years, 1 month, and 6 days ago as I write this. On that day, the United States of America was the world's pre-eminent power, and more. We were the first and only interplanetary power. We could do anything. Armstrong, Collins, Aldrin, and NASA had just proved it.
I was seventeen years old and barely begun upon the adventure of adulthood. I'd grown up in an era that celebrated American brawn, brains, and beneficence. The literature of my youth, science fiction from such titans as Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein, simply assumed that the exponential curve of American advancement would sweep us into space, past the Moon, out to the farthest reaches of the Solar System, and ultimately to the stars. Free men would conquer the universe, with the Stars and Stripes for their banner.
On July 20, 1969, those optimistic visions appeared to be on the verge of fulfillment.
Where are they today?
I drag a lot of ghosts behind me. My entire family and many of my friends have pre-deceased me. I've suffered a great many maladies, setbacks, and disappointments. I've entered the seventh decade of my life aware that my best days are long behind me...that I have little left to contribute to the world, and probably nothing that will outlive me. But none of those specters glooms over me quite as deeply today as this one: the grandest dream of my youth has been stamped EXPIRED.
I will never stand upon another world.
I didn't expect to get into space by my own efforts, of course. But forty-three years ago, it seemed certain that the Apollo program was only the beginning -- that manned space travel would swiftly be made safe, economical, and commercially viable. We'd established that we could put men upon the Moon and bring them home again; all else would be merely a matter of scale and careful implementation.
I didn't reckon with the political developments of the time. I hadn't yet begun to pay attention to the rising forces of safety-first-fanaticism, of enviro-fascism, of identity politics, of political venality, of unrestrained envy and willed weakness and hatred of freedom. I was too caught up in the glories of the moment...too concentrated upon readying myself to contribute to America's thrust toward the stars.
Those forces have had their way with us. They've long since neutered NASA; today they're doing their best to emasculate America's military. Deep budget cuts are only the first step. If you haven't kept up with the news, there's a faction in the State Department that's arguing for unilateral nuclear disarmament by the United States, on the grounds that our possession of nuclear weapons is the only reason any other nation would want them. Meanwhile, the I.R.S. is hiring thousands of new agents and the Fish and Wildlife Service is buying guns and ammunition in truckload quantities. What's wrong with this picture?
What are we doing with our incomparable resources and talents? Putting ever greater fractions of our land and our subsurface assets out of bounds! Making it illegal to drain swamps! Making it unaffordable to fuel your car or heat your home with fossil fuels! Writing welfare checks to idlers in payment for the strenuous work of registering for a yoga class! Organizing "sex education" curricula in the government-run schools that encourage pre-teens to experiment with homosex!
Is there a single sensible American -- i.e., one who loves life, freedom, and achievement -- who regards these developments as sane and constructive? What would Neil Armstrong say about them, were he not too private a person to share his views with the rest of us?
Oh, excuse me: I forgot for a moment. R.I.P., Mr. Armstrong.
I suppose it's a bit inconsistent of me to remember Apollo so fondly. It was a government program, after all. At the time quite a lot of conservatives doubted that space exploration was a proper undertaking of government. But its value as an emblem for the American spirit in those years is unequaled.
There's been a lot of loose chatter about how "we" no longer do "big things." I suppose that depends on your frame of reference. Reducing the richest, most powerful nation in history to penury and impotence is a pretty big thing. I'm glad I had no hand in that, but no doubt there are persons proud of their contributions to the enterprise.
I want my country back: the United States of 1969, when the stars seems destined to be ours, sooner or later. I want to see the safety drones, the enviro-Nazis, the PC crowd, the multiculturalists, the purveyors of identity politics, the exploiters of envy, and the apostles of national impotence put out of this nation. Ideally, I'd like to see them all swinging from gibbets, but one must take what one can get. I want us to flip the bird to our international detractors and whip our enemies yelping back into their kennels. I want us to rev our engines again, unabashedly, and drive for the horizons, grinning like madmen.
I want the ghost of Neil Armstrong to look down on America from heaven and be pleased by what he sees.
Just now, I doubt that that's the case.