Neil Armstrong
By: Matthew Battles | Categories: Adventure, HiLo Heroes


There’s a kind of historical fancy which places a high value on footsteps. “Walk in the footsteps of Lincoln,” goes the exhortation — or those of Kennedy, or the American Indian, or Romantic poets in the lake district. Of course the footprints themselves, residue of the journey, are long gone. When NEIL ARMSTRONG (born 1930) first set foot on the moon, the imprint of his soles in the planet’s fine, reflective dust was compared to the traces left by the first creatures to drag themselves from the oceans and walk on land. In retrospect, such claims seem far-fetched. The cheap and easy space tourism which Arthur C. Clarke and others expected would follow on the first moon landing has yet to materialize; it’s unclear whether anyone will ever have the chance to follow Armstrong’s small steps through the silvery regolith. But the extraordinary feat of setting Armstrong on the moon still boggles the imagination. Unlike many of his colleagues, Armstrong has resisted the pull of public life, helping to preserve not only the mystique of the Apollo landings, but of the moon itself. His footprints remain where no wind can weather them, whatever tempests may blow here below.

ALSO BORN THIS DATE: Wendell Berry.

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ADVENTURERS as HILO HEROES: Katia Krafft | Freya Stark | Louise Arner Boyd | Mary Kingsley | Bruce Chatwin | Hester Lucy Stanhope | Annie Smith Peck | Richard Francis Burton | Isabella Lucy Bird | Calamity Jane | Ernest Shackleton | Osa Helen Johnson | Redmond O’Hanlon | Gertrude Bell | George Mallory | Neta Snook | Jane Digby | Wilfred Thesiger | Joe Carstairs | Florence “Pancho” Barnes | Erskine Childers | Jacques-Yves Cousteau | Thor Heyerdahl | Jean-Paul Clébert | Tristan Jones | Neil Armstrong

On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Sid Laverents, Adam Yauch (MCA), Wendell Berry.

READ MORE about members of the Postmodernist Generation (1924-33).

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Matthew Battles, Hilobrow's cofounder, has written about language, history, and the natural world for many publications. When he makes poems, he puts them here. A fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, he's also the author of Library, An Unquiet History.