December 16, 2022

Book Review – Dear Neil Armstrong

“Dear Neil Armstrong: Letters to the First Man from All Mankind,” James R Hansen, 2019.

From the deeply philosophical to the flippant and goofy, reactions to Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon were as varied as the people who followed the historic mission. The amount of unwanted advice and requests for gifts the Apollo 11 commander received is breathtaking and revealing, foreshadowing the fame that was to chase him for the rest of his life. More touching are the many letters from people who wanted instead to do something for him, as a way of expressing their deep admiration and respect.

I once chaperoned Neil Armstrong for a day, including at a VIP evening event. No autographs were allowed, and guests were polite and respectful. And yet, the sheer crush of people wanting to just say hello to him, the endless flashes of the cameras, the inability to move without people stepping in front of him to say a quick hello – it was 

exhausting being next to him for a few hours. I cannot imagine how he did it for so many decades. For each person, it was their moment to meet him – and then they were done. For him, it was never-ending.

The trove of correspondence shared in this book reveals a fascinating human response to humankind’s greatest exploration. From self-important politicians, to ordinary families in the Soviet Union, to soldiers fighting in the jungles of Vietnam, it seems everyone wanted to do something never before possible in history – to write to a lunar explorer. Some wanted to show gratitude with gifts of hand-made jewelry and specially-composed music. Others simply shared their wonder at what they felt in those hours watching the mission on television. These letters show that no matter what immense technological achievements take place, human nature, in all its quirky glory, will remain entertaining and unpredictable.

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