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Why Armstrong deserves credit for more than his legendary moon landing.
With space legend Neil Armstrong's death on Saturday, everyone's talking about his historic moon landing -- which of course was pretty epic, but Armstrong's accomplishments also changed popular subconscious in ways we may not even realize.
Here's five ways his life possibly changed yours:
Armstrong's moon landing raised the bar not just for society, but for many people personally. One in five people watched it on television -- that's an estimated 600 million jaws dropping in amazement. As with any great human achievement, the event left many mulling their own inner potential.
"Since that day, there’s been a common phrase: 'If we can send a man to the moon, why can’t we ... ?' with the blank filled with a task that seems far less difficult," noted The Washington Post, quoting American University space professor Howard McCurdy as saying Armstrong's success signified, “if we can do this, we can do anything."
“He took something that 20 years earlier was pure fantasy and turned it into reality and if we could do that for space we could do it for anything,” McCurdy told the Post on Saturday.
Armstrong was famously reserved, a fact that may have inadvertently helped preserve our outer space imagination. Fantasy writer CS Lewis, for example, was against space programs because he thought man's arrival on the moon would kill humanity's long history of creative fascination with the planet -- the moon, remember, was for centuries believed to be the center of the universe.
Indeed, "the notoriously publicity shy Armstrong was a reluctant hero," said USA Today, adding that Armstrong wouldn't do autographs, avoided the media, and didn't really like attending moonwalk anniversary events.
As for the moon itself, Armstrong was not helpful in the description category, saying only that his arrival there was "beyond any visual experience," according to Britain's Mirror. If Lewis were still alive, his mind would be set at ease by Armstrong's recalcitrance, observed Daniel Hannan, writing in Britain's The Telegraph that "we have been able to assimilate the science without losing the poetry."
Some argue that the event stimulated our imagination instead of suffocating it. Science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke hailed Armstrong's landing as a moment in which "history and fiction have become inexorably intertwined," reported The Washington Post -- so much so that NASA recently named the landing site of its Curiosity rover after science fiction legend Ray Bradbury, according to The Christian Science Monitor.
"I am, and ever will be, a white socks, pocket protector, nerdy engineer," Armstrong announced in a (rare) February 2000 interview, according to the Mirror.
The unembarrassed remark may have helped inspire a generation of empowered geeks, beginning with those famously portrayed in the '80s film "Revenge of the Nerds."
"A new world order has unfolded, with nerds ascendant," wrote Jessica Bruder in the New York Times just last year, reviewing the book "The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth." (In a separate music piece, the paper went so far as to ask, "Can a Nerd Have Soul?")
Nerds have a lot of soul. There's a "new-found respect for people like Steve Jobs, who made it cool to be creative, and Bill Gates, who makes it cool to save the world," wrote Ron Mwangaguhunga in IFC, going on to list "Steven Spielberg: geek; James Cameron: geek; JK Rowling: geek; Oprah Winfrey: geek; Anne Sweeney: geek."
Presumably one could add Armstrong to the list. Young people seem to agree that these people are kind of awesome.
"Call them geeks, dorks or nerds, those once-uncool people ostracized for loving comics, obscure card games and computer code have loads of allure these days," New York University student Zorik Pesochinsky wrote in "The (Second) Rise of the Nerd."
“We may be living in the age of Armstrong,” Rice University historian Douglas Brinkley, who specializes in modern history and worked with Armstrong to produce oral histories for NASA, told The Washington Post.
He certainly changed the lives of an entire generation.
"Like many people my age, I was on my knees with my face as close to our General Electric black & white television as my parents would allow," recalled The Planetary Society's Bill Nye. "He changed the world. And of course, he certainly changed me. I went on to become a professional engineer and now the CEO of this organization," he wrote, adding that thanks to Armstrong, "we all believe that humans can achieve great things -- that we can learn about our place among the stars -- that we can all reach up and out -- that we can fly, and change the world."
His death may be a pivotal moment for the United States, wrote Amy Teitel in The Guardian. "[J]ust as Kennedy's death in 1963 spurred the nation to achieve his lunar landing goal, Armstrong's death may inspire future generations to start a new chapter in spaceflight's history."
Armstrong raised concerned about President Barack Obama's space policy back in 2010, worrying that exploration would be sidelined in favor of more privatized efforts.
The space legend called plans to stop manned NASA flights "misguided," according to USA Today. He also testified before Congress, and told The Associated Press he said he had "substantial reservations" about the shift in focus.
His comments were not lost on politicians, with Obama recently personally congratulating NASA astronauts responsible for Curiosity's successful August 6 Mars landing.