It was 1969, and nobody knew that it was the end of an era. This was before the national cynacism set in because of Watergate. It was before politicians like Reagan started bashing the government, and future generations would pick up on that and treat our government like it was the enemy. It was a time when we strived together through government, and greed was considered a bad thing.
By fulfilling Kennedy's promise to put a man on the moon before the end of the sixties, NASA and Neil Armstrong showed what government can do. The Apollo 11 landing was something of pure good, pure success. It was using government (partnered with business) to create entire new technologies, to embrace (rather than mock) science, and to literally reach for the stars in a way that was unheard of only ten years earlier.
Neil was the symbol for all that America could be. None of us knew at the time how short-lived the promise of America would be.
As for Neil, I was always impressed by his humility. I mean, 600 years from now, nobody will know who Michael Jordan is — maybe not even Michael Jackson. But Neil Armstrong's name will forever be placed alongside the great explorers — Magellan, Columbus, etc. — who went to places virtually unknown. That's got to be a heady experience. But after retiring from NASA, Neil went quietly into the shadows — doing consulting work and farming instead of cashing in on his name. You gotta respect that.
Neil Armstrong passed away this weekend at the age of 82.