Who the f*** is Neil Armstrong?
August 26, 2012 8 Comments
Sat on a train last night, my timeline on Twitter alternated between the X Factor and the death of Neil Armstrong, perhaps two opposite ends of the scale of human endeavour. Switching to a search on Neil Armstrong, I was amazed to see a significant number of tweets from teenagers along the following lines -
‘Who the f*** is Neil Armstrong?’
‘Don’t even know who Neil Armstrong is?’
‘Apparently Neil Armstrong isn’t a cyclist, so who is he? Everyone seems quite bummed out about it #confused’
I RT’d a collection of these tweets somewhat taken aback and saddened that they had not come across one of the most recognised people in world history and a couple of minutes saw the following tweet from a teacher in my timeline -
‘Dear 40-something dicks mocking teenagers who don’t know who Neil Armstrong is, what would you have tweeted when Douglas Bader died?’ followed shortly after by ‘cue waves of abuse from child geniuses who knew who everybody was who died when they were teenagers.’
Sadly I must have been a child genius back then because I knew who Douglas Bader was so I suppose I would have tweeted something like ‘RIP Douglas Bader – legend’ but, had I not known him, I would hope that I might have used Google to find out who he was before revealing my lack of knowledge to the world. But putting all that aside, surely the teacher has a point? Do we really expect teenagers to know something about a man and an event that most of their parents do not remember directly? It’s a fair point but we’re not talking about someone vaguely worthy of note or a minor historical figure. It’s not Douglas Bader. It’s not Gore Vidal, Whitney Houston or someone ‘really famous’ like Cheryl Cole or Joey off The Only Way Is Essex. It’s Neil f***ing Armstrong!
We’re talking about one of the ambitious projects mankind has ever undertaken and a space programme that coincides with the start of the technology age in which we have lived ever since. The computing power used to land a man on the Moon and return him safely to the Earth would probably now fit into a mobile phone with room to spare. Apollo inspired a generation of scientists and the spin offs from the space programme help shape our lives today e.g. LEDs, artificial limbs, tyre technology, water purification, solar energy. Even the technology required just to broadcast the moon landings live was groundbreaking. Apollo 11 was one of the first global TV broadcasts and of course the moon landing also gave us one of the most famous quotations in the English language “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.””(The ‘a’ was inaudible at the time). Now the man who gave us that quote, who symbolised the work and ambition of thousands of engineers and scientists over a decade and took that small step is no longer with us.
No one should expect teenagers to know everyone who has died. It’s not their fault that we have taken the moon landings for granted, failed to educate them about one of mankind’s greatest achievements and possibly missed an opportunity to inspire some child to a future career in science. However it might be great if we use this sad occasion to make some amends and sometime in the next school year, when the moon is visible, every child is taken out of the classroom even if for just five minutes and told that in 1969 before most of their parents were born and laptops, flat screen TVs, Xboxes and mobile phones had even been invented, a spacecraft spent four days travelling a quarter of a million miles to reach the moon and the first man to step foot on its surface was Neil Armstrong.’