By all accounts, Neil Armstrong sought a quiet life after he became the first human being to walk on the moon. Apparently he succeeded, because when he died Saturday, the news caused hardly a ripple. More Americans could identify that other moonwalker, Michael Jackson, also deceased, than Armstrong.
That's quite extraordinary, because Armstrong's achievement ranks as one of the greatest in the history of human exploration. He was the first Earthling, after all, to set foot on another celestial body. Even today, only 12 people have walked on the surface of the moon, the last in 1972. As exploring goes, there's nothing to top that. History books could rightfully place Armstrong ahead of Columbus, Magellan, Marco Polo, Cook, Amundsen, Hillary.
Armstrong undoubtedly realized that his feat was the result of an unprecedented collaborative effort made possible by tens of thousands of other people engineers, scientists, manufacturers who put the Apollo program and, ultimately, the landing module Eagle on the moon. The Wall Street Journal reported in 1994 that the moon landing program was so enormous that it required America's largest peacetime industrial buildup and that at its peak it consumed one cent of every dollar of U.S. economic output. Perhaps that's why Armstrong shunned the hoopla and hero-worship. He knew that he stood on more shoulders than any other explorer in history.