There are heroes and then there are those who transcend the accolade. The late Neil Armstrong, the first person to step foot on the moon, was one of that rarest of breeds. He and fellow astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins could not avoid the hoopla in the weeks after the July 20, 1969, feat, but when the world tour, parades and award ceremonies had ended, he made a point of fading from the limelight. Politicking and making his views known on matters that he was not expert on were not for him. Soon, he was back in his rural American home state of Ohio, teaching engineering at university. Reluctance and modesty are not traits we associate with heroism, making his star shine that much brighter.
Imagination, grit and determination are behind every astronaut. Those are the qualities of a hero, but it takes more to attain that level. Thousands of mathematicians, engineers and scientists made Armstrong's achievement possible. Yet it was his calm commanding of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon and his first steps on its surface that caught the world's attention.
Armstrong's iconic words on reaching his goal, "one small step for man, a giant leap for mankind" are forever etched in the minds of the generation who witnessed the landing live on television. The history books will always include his name and the event will be among the few of the 20th century that is likely to be recounted in the 30th and beyond. But the ramifications were wider than science and technology, being a pivotal moment of the cold war space race between the US and the Soviet Union. The sight of earth in its entirety for the first time, a blue and green jewel suspended in the darkness of space, invigorated the then young environmental movement.
Even more importantly, though, the world forgot about war, nationalism and rivalries and was one. Americans had reached the moon, but it was humankind that had achieved the unimaginable. That, not heroism or advantage, should ultimately be the objective of all those who push the boundaries. There is no better inspiration than Neil Armstrong.