Famous First Words
Neil Armstrong did not lie to you. You lied to yourself.
If, that is, you ever bought into any of the hype.
For more than four decades, the story has been that Armstrong mentally composed his famous line, "That's one small step for [a] man; one giant leap for mankind," either while on the moon or, at the earliest, while on the 238,000-mile flight into lunar orbit. If you were one of those who, like me, wanted to call, "Hogwash!" to that, congratulations-- we've been (somewhat) vindicated. Neil's younger brother, Dean Armstrong, now says the first man to walk on the moon actually wrote the line days --perhaps even weeks-- before blast-off.
Even that might not be the whole story-- but more of those thoughts in a moment.
What we can now refer to as the "timeline detail" has been seized upon by the media as some sort of scandal. Headlines scream, "Neil Armstrong lied," and local radio morning zoos have done such a good job of acting like flinging monkeys that they leave one wondering if any of them have even the most basic knowledge of America's space program, let alone know anything about one of the most famous utterances in history.
So now I join the fray-- not so much in reaction to the news that someone actually put some forethought into the first message from an actual man on the moon, but in reaction to the reaction. Put simply: To all those who are making a big deal out of this, shut the flip up and sit the flop down.
I am an avid fan of space exploration. I am also an avid fan of sports. I am not, however, one of those sports fans who worships athletes-- what George Carlin once described as a "jock sniffer." Most athletes are [sphincters]. Dense, loutish [sphincters] at that.
Michael Vick, an NFL quarterback, possesses breathtaking speed and agility, has a throwing arm like a Roman ballista and (I'm guessing) a moderate-to-high degree of on-field cunning. Off the field, he is a petulant dog abuser who is so stupid he once tried to sneak marijuana past airport security in a 20-ounce water bottle... at a time when he was under contract for well over $100,000,000. (Heh... an astronomical sum, to be sure.) On the field, he is to be cheered or booed according to his performance and/or whomever you're rooting for. Off the field, well... if the cosmos ever grants you a baseball bat and a clean shot with no repercussions, please, I beg you, swing away.
Don't get me wrong. Vick is a fill-in-the-blank-opath and, as such, an extreme example. The parallel I'm drawing is this: You can be a sports fan without being a jock sniffer, and you can be a space fan without succumbing to vapid hero worship. Yes, Neil Armstrong was the man wearing the boot. What is too often and too quickly forgotten is that someone else had to put it on for him.
Over the years, I've seen countless interviews with astronauts. While they all seem intelligent, very few come across as markedly eloquent or given to introspection. The rocket jockeys from the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs of the 1960s in particular seem far more like the kind of guys who'd kick sand in your face to impress their girlfriends than they do warrior-poets. That's a general impression, of course, and there are certainly exceptions to it... but Neil Armstrong never stood out as being one of the exceptions.
In fact, I am not surprised that someone gave several days or even several weeks of forethought to the first words uttered by the first human to stand on the moon. What surprises me is the notion that Armstrong came up with the line himself. Rendered for posterity with as much clunkiness as his pressure suit, I had always assumed the declaration had been written for him by someone in NASA's public relations department.
Perhaps I will yet be vindicated in thinking that.
Swing away... Bud "When the Moon Hits Your Eye Like a Big Pizza Pie, That's Amore" Selig must go.