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Jack Simpson: Neil Armstrong, America's space pioneer

Think about it. Right now we have a vehicle we call Curiosity sitting on Mars. It is looking for signs of life and is sending us pictures for interested scientists and observers to study.

Even more interesting is an old Eagle Scout who earned his flight certificate at age 15, even before he had a drivers license. Neil Armstrong actually was the space pioneer who first set foot on the moon. At age 82, he recently died from complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures.

A man described as having a mind that absorbed things like a sponge, Neil Armstrong wasn't named Curiosity but he did make a giant leap for mankind. It was back in 1969 when this frontrunner in the space race made a voyage described as a truly amazing achievement for America.

The American flag placed by Armstrong still sits where he touched down so far away on the lunar surface.

Think about something else. Neil Armstrong, described by colleague Buzz Aldrin as "the best pilot I ever knew," had joined the company of other great explorers like Amundsen, Columbus and Magellan. They, too, had been the first to achieve a goal. Armstrong was first to set foot on the Sea of Tranquility.

This landing on the moon seemed to be beckoning America's future. Sad to say that the years rolled by and gradually we lost our edge in space travel. Now we fly to the International Space Station on Russian rockets. The Apollo program has receded into history.

Once Armstrong and his fellow moonwalkers were our heroes, men apart. A followup to the moon walks has not happened. Moon missions were canceled and interest waned. Costs rose and budgets were cut. Manned space flight gave way to machine exploration like Curiosity. Wars took money away from NASA programs and budgets. Space exploration now is by proxy not by man's footprints.

The first moonwalker is dead and gone, and Curiosity has landed on Mars. We await its photographs and reports.

Neil Armstrong, decorated by 17 countries, holder of the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award, The Presidential Medal of Freedom, Congressional Gold Medal and NASA Distinguished Service Medal and other similar recognitions, will long be remembered by his countrymen as a brave American hero, modest and very accomplished.

In the dark of night as we look up at the moon, we will remember that once a Navy pilot, who pushed the limits of space travel, first stood upon that satellite. It was an accomplishment even greater than the 78 missions Armstrong flew over Korea, or the 20 combat missions that had earned him the Air Medal. He has now planted his footprints in Heaven. We shall miss him, but his record of achievement stands.