The world has lost a reluctant hero, Neil Armstrong, the first human to walk on the moon, a man who proclaimed “I am, and ever will be a white socks, pocket protector, nerdy engineer.”
I was four years old at the time of Sputnik, and grew up during “the space race,” at the height of the Cold War. When the world heard “the Eagle has landed,” I was canoeing in the wilderness between Minnesota and Canada. As Armstrong made his small step that signaled a giant leap, I was lakeside in twilight, listening to loons, and wondering how long such healthy environments might remain, with water safe to drink, and air sweet to breathe.
Missions into space generated important knowledge that brought benefits to those on earth. But we face today challenges that Armstrong the engineer would understand: systems can break down, and changes too severe or too rapid can be brutal. As the lunar module carrying Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin approached the moon’s surface, systems were being overtaxed. Armstrong took control of the descent. Solid grasp of conditions and priorities, and decades of practice in handling problems, helped him land the Eagle safely. Today, we too need to act. With now twice as many human mouths as in 1969, biodiversity shrinking and climate warming day by day, and social fabrics fraying, we must grasp the powerful principles and interwoven patterns that support us. We, too, have no safety net.
There is today one less eagle among us. But we can collectively salute Armstrong, the untold millions who supported that effort with brain, shoulder, or wallet, and the billions before and yet to come, by recognizing and meeting our most profound challenge: understanding and sustaining our world.
- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager