Razib Khan has a great post up on Armstrong's death which I'm just goint to repost in its entirety after directing you to him:
"It has been 40 years since he last human being set foot on the moon. I was not alive when this occurred. The Whig views history as a progression. When we recall the past we remember, perhaps pity, a less developed age.
Overall I disagree with declinists who simplistically portray our age
as one of silver, that perhaps we live in the modern Western equivalent
of late antique Rome. Certainly there is greatness all around us. And
one can argue that the “space race” was driven not by ennobling
sentiments, but rather the raw competition between the United States and
Soviet Union. Be as that may be, could we soon look back to the 1960s as the ultimate high point in the spirit of the West?
Perhaps we do live in a fallen age in a sense, unable to rouse
ourselves and recapture past glories, and even surpass them. The
Hellenistic Greeks were a civilized people, who were more advanced than
their Classical predecessors in particular details of science and
engineering. Yet most scholars would suggest that there was
something derivative and unoriginal when compared to the ferment of
Athens’ golden century.
I wonder. Did Neil Armstrong ever consider when he set foot on the
moon that humanity would not return for the last four decades of his
It's a sobering thought, and certainly one that every space enthusiast has flirted with on some level. But Razib expands the fear to civilizational proportions. However, I would add a couple points of optimism. I think we are sort of back on the right
track. Efforts on the space station could probably have been better
spent on Mars, and we really don't need
to hop around the moon anymore (although with new evidence on the water
content perhaps that's not fair). What we need it people on Mars, and
the cooperation with the private sector and the continuous (and
improving) robotic presence on Mars is a good place to start. I'm not a
Whig history type, but I do believe in progress. I guess that makes me a
Whig historian without the hagiography and teleology? Or maybe a short-run anti-Whig and a long-run Whig? Anyway, let's
just say I'm optimistic and we need to keep working at it.
I think part of the reason for my optimism is the fact that I work on economics, and the awe-inspiring relentlessness of economic growth in a market society. As Robert Lucas said "once you start thinking about economic growth, it's hard to think about anything else." It's probably the one thing that could push me to dive back into a Whig history attitude. I think we will fulfill the dreams that people had, but it's a question of timing. Will we have a permanent presence on Mars in 20 years or 100? Will we have a human settlement in 100 or 500? That I don't know. And there's always a chance of a catastrophe that will send us into the Dark Ages. I think nuclear war is off the table for the most part (although use of nuclear weapons by terrorists certainly isn't). Climate change is the obvious candidate. Needless to say in the face of a catastrophe, commitment of resources to progress will be more difficult.
But I think we should be optimistic. There are a lot of places where Whiggism clearly doesn't apply, but in science, technology, and the economy it is very, very hard not to be optimistic.