Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, died Saturday at the age of 82 after complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures.

With the passing of Armstrong, there are now only eight men living of the 12 who walked on the surface of the moon from 1969-72.  They range in age from 76 to 82, meaning that one day, they and the men and women who helped them get to the moon will be gone.  When that day comes, another chapter in American History will pass from living memory.

Today, the future of America’s Manned Spaceflight program is not bright.  The Space Shuttle was retired in 2010 and no replacement vehicle is planned, meaning that for the foreseeable future, Americans will be hitching rides in space on Russian craft.

The death of Armstrong gives America a reason to pause and reexamine its place as a nation of exploration in the world.  We have always been a nation of explorers, a nation that praised explorers like Lewis and Clark and Neil Armstrong.

What does it say about a country when it has to ask for a ride from other countries to a place it used to explore.  If America had taken this same approach to exploration of the West, Oregon would today be part of Canada and America’s western border would be the Sabine River.

Opponents to Manned Space flight say that it is too expensive to do, but the same has been said throughout the history of civilization about countless other undertakings.

What separated explorers from those who stayed behind was that explorers were willing to say ‘Yes, it will be an expensive undertaking but its benefits will outweigh those costs.’  Men like Christopher Columbus, Lewis and Clark, and Neil Armstrong provided knowledge of new frontiers that led to opportunity for many more.

The end of Manned Space flight says two things about our society: We don’t care about exploring new places like we once did and we are willing to let others explore.  Maybe it takes the death of the first human to walk on another world to snap us out of space exploration lethargy.  Only time will tell.

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