The death this past weekend of Neil Armstrong - first man to set foot on the moon - was cause for sadness for a couple of reasons.
He exemplified the courage and skill all countries look for in a hero. He was a decent, modest human being whose last public fight was for the continuation of a manned space program.
Brian Williams of NBC News described Armstrong as the "last of our modest heroes." Indeed, many men would have used the opportunity of uttering, "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," as the steppingstone for an ego trip. Not Armstrong - he remained a quiet, competent pilot devoted to his country and the space program.
His partner in the Lunar Excursion Module, Buzz Aldrin, described how Armstrong calmly overrode the autopilot to guide it to a safe landing on the moon. With only seconds worth of fuel left, Armstrong set the module down, avoiding what Aldrin described as "car-sized" boulders in a terrain pockmarked with craters.
Armstrong calmly radioed Mission Control: "Tranquility Base here, the Eagle (the lunar module) has landed."
He, and all those first astronauts, were test pilots chosen to fulfill President John Kennedy's challenge to put a man on the moon in the decade of the 1960s. They did it, barely, with Armstrong and Aldrin setting down on July 20, 1969.
House Speaker John Boehner, from Armstrong's home state of Ohio, summed up the view of many who had met the astronaut when he told CNN:
"A true hero has returned to the heavens to which he once flew. Neil Armstrong blazed trails not just for America, but for all of mankind. He inspired generations of boys and girls worldwide not just through his monumental feat, but with the humility and grace with which he carried himself to the end."
He inspired a lot of us adults, too.
* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.