Rest in Peace, Rocket Man

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Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon, has passed away at the age of 82.

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NASA

Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon, has passed away at the age of 82, according to a statement released by his family.

Before the Apollo 11 mission, Richard Nixon's speechwriter William Safire prepared a statement that the president would read in the case of tragedy. Reading those words now, it feels as though their weight and meaning travels through time, turning our loss today into poetry, while at the same time reminding us of the unbelievable risk these men undertook to bring us closer to the stars.

IN THE EVENT OF MOON DISASTER:

Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.

These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.

These two men are laying down their lives in mankind's most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding.

They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be mourned by their nation; they will be mourned by the people of the world; they will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown.

In their exploration, they stirred the people of the world to feel as one; in their sacrifice, they bind more tightly the brotherhood of man.

In ancient days, men looked at stars and saw their heroes in the constellations. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood.

Others will follow and surely find their way home. Man's search will not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts.

For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.

PRIOR TO THE PRESIDENT'S STATEMENT: The president should telephone each of the widows-to-be.

AFTER THE PRESIDENT'S STATEMENT, at the point when NASA ends communications with the men: A clergyman should adopt the same procedure as a burial at sea, commending their souls to "the deepest of the deep," concluding with the Lord's Prayer.

Like us, our heroes are mortal, but in the mark that Armstrong left on our world and the footprints he left on our moon, he feels a little less so.

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"I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn't feel like a giant. I felt very, very small." -- Neil Armstrong

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Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

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