WELL, letâ€™s see now … That was a small step for Neil Armstrong, a giant leap for mankind and a real knee in the groin for NASA.
The American space program, the greatest, grandest, most Promethean â€” O.K. if I add â€œgodlikeâ€? â€” quest in the history of the world, died in infancy at 10:56 p.m. New York time on July 20, 1969, the moment the foot of Apollo 11â€™s Commander Armstrong touched the surface of the Moon.
It was no ordinary dead-and-be-done-with-it death. It was full-blown purgatory, purgatory being the holding pen for recently deceased but still restless souls awaiting judgment by a Higher Authority.
Like many another youngster at that time, or maybe retro-youngster in my case, I was fascinated by the astronauts after Apollo 11. I even dared to dream of writing a book about them someday. If anyone had told me in July 1969 that the sound of Neil Armstrongâ€™s small step plus mankindâ€™s big one was the shuffle of pallbearers at graveside, I would have averted my eyes and shaken my head in pity. Poor guyâ€™s bucketâ€™s got a hole in it.
Why, putting a man on the Moon was just the beginning, the prelude, the prologue! The Moon was nothing but a little satellite of Earth. The great adventure was going to be the exploration of the planets … Mars first, then Venus, then Pluto. Jupiter, Mercury, Saturn, Neptune and Uranus? NASA would figure out their slots in the schedule in due course. In any case, we Americans wouldnâ€™t stop until we had explored the entire solar system. And after that … the galaxies beyond.