I was four years old in 1978. That year saw the publication of a book called The 100, in which a guy named Michael Hart took it upon himself to rank the hundred most influential people ever to have lived. His choice for #80 was John F. Kennedy, solely for his role in committing the resources of a global superpower to landing a human being on the moon. Neil Armstrong, Hart argued, didn't affect the course of history; had he never lived, some other test pilot would have taken that small step for a man and giant leap for mankind. But without Kennedy, reaching the moon might still be a fanciful goal.
Maybe that's true. Still, Neil Armstrong always held an important place in my mental landscape. The planet Earth formed 4.6 billion years ago; for four billion of those years, it has harbored life. Multicellular organisms arose a billion years ago; land animals, 400 million; anatomically modern humans, 200 thousand. In all that time, not one of those countless children of Earth ventured to another world, not until Neil Armstrong set foot upon a dusty alien landscape. Our form of life could now be said to belong to worlds beyond that which had borne us. And I was always awestruck to think that we lived in the 0.02% of human history, in the 0.0000009% of Earth history, when the pioneer of this new era walked amongst us.
And now we don't.