Neil Armstrong’s death marks more than just the passing of a 20th century pioneer.
That Armstrong was one of the towering figures of the last century is without question. There can barely be a person alive today who cannot recite those immortal words uttered as Armstrong became the first human to set foot on a new world.
It was truly a giant leap and his passing – at a time when the Curiosity voyager is even now probing the surface of Mars – will focus minds on what comes next for mankind’s exploration of space.
There are many, of course, who regard the journey into space as a huge waste of cash. They would argue that the vast sums of money pumped into the Apollo missions, Space Shuttle and Mars probes would be much better spent here on earth, helping fight illness, poverty and famine.
It is the argument of the pragmatist over the optimist.
But it does not take account of the huge spin-off benefits of the space programme or the low costs when taken in a broader context.
US Government officials say space research generates around $8 of income for every $1 spent, while the amount of money spent on alcohol in the USA is roughly 20 times greater than NASA’s budget.
It has led to huge leaps forward in medicine, particularly in areas such as digital technology, created global telecommunications through satellites and is directly responsible for the advent of the microelectronics we all now take for granted in our tablets and smartphones.
But there is more than economics to this.
The journey into space speaks to something more fundamental about the human condition.
Armstrong was the last in a long line of mighty explorers who, like Mallory, set out to conquer the unknown simply because it was there.
All knew that in doing so, mankind would ultimately see more, learn more and become more than it previously was.
He was also a gentle man whose humility served him well. In an age of celebrity, Armstrong proved a reluctant hero who avoided the spotlight. Little wonder some have described him as the ultimate hero in an era of corruptible men.
Armstrong conquered the unknown and that is his legacy. It could not be greater.