The wisdom of Neil Armstrong

In my own view, the important achievement of Apollo was a demonstration that humanity is not forever chained to this planet, and our visions go rather further than that, and our opportunities are unlimited. – Neil Armstrong

Neil Armstrong has died at the age of 82. He is best remembered as the first human to walk on the moon. His grainy radio communications from space created iconic phrases like “The Eagle has landed” and “This is one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Having walked on the moon, Armstrong could have easily made a career out of politics after returning to terra firma. He could certainly claim a rare perspective on the world.

But he didn’t. He focused on teaching, business, and helping make space exploration safer. He eschewed the temptations of public office. And the world is better off for his work.

Whether Armstrong wanted it or not, his accomplishments had a radical influence.

By reaching the moon, he inspired a generation to quite literally ‘reach for the stars’. Today’s companies like MoonExpress, MarsOne, and SpaceX all owe a practical and philosophical debt to the work of Armstrong.

But even those social entrepreneurs focused on Earth should listen to Armstrong.

“It suddenly struck me,” he said while standing on the moon, staring off to the dark firmament at mankind’s only home, “that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth.”

“I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth,” he said, “I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.”

Scientist Carl Sagan wrote a beautiful poem about this lonely but exhilarating feeling of infinity, of oneness with the universe.

Suddenly, much of humanity’s strife and disagreement seems petty. After all, we’re all passengers aboard Spaceship Earth together.

So we ought to act that way. We should treat each other better. We should also take Armstrong’s advice and let our visions grow.

Armstrong was disappointed with the way the future unfolded.

“I fully expected that by the end of the [20th] century we would have achieved substantially more than we actually did” he said. Tech entrepreneur Peter Thiel echoed this when he recently wrote, “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.”

We can do better. We can push the bounds of how we live on our Pale Blue Dot and beyond it — by becoming honest, courageous explorers in every aspect of our lives. Armstrong knew as much:

Perhaps it won’t matter, in the end, which country is the sower of the seed of exploration. The importance will be in the growth of the new plant of progress and in the fruits it will bear. These fruits will be a new breed of the human species, a human with new views, new vigor, new resiliency, and a new view of the human purpose. The plant: the tree of human destiny.