Lone piper honours Neil Armstrong at memorial
THEY could have chosen a grand anthem to accompany their procession down the cathedral aisle, or a funereal work to mark the passing of a legend.
Instead, Neil Armstrong’s family opted for a lone bagpiper to open yesterday’s national memorial service, in tribute to the lunar pioneer’s cherished Scottish roots.
Held 50 years and one day after President John F Kennedy delivered his historic “Moon speech” at Rice University in Texas, which spurred the Apollo space programme that ultimately set Armstrong on the lunar surface in July 1969, the service brought together luminaries of the space exploration, naval and academic worlds, along with family, friends and public, to celebrate the astronaut’s life and legacy.
With light streaming in through Washington National Cathedral’s “space window”, a stained glass feature that has as its centrepiece a fragment of a lunar rock presented by Armstrong, Kelso-born bagpiper Angus Sutherland – wearing Clan Armstrong tartan – led the spaceman’s widow Carol and family members to their seats, to the sound of Mist Covered Mountains.
Charlie Bolden, a former shuttle astronaut and current head of Nasa, spoke of Armstrong as a “brave and humble servant who never stopped dreaming, never stopped working to make those dreams a reality”.
“Nasa will always be remembered for taking humankind’s first small step on a world beyond our own. But it was the courage, grace and humility he displayed throughout his life that lifted him above the stars,” he said.
Quoting from a letter sent by President Barack Obama to Armstrong’s widow, he added: “Neil Armstrong left more than footprints and a flag on the Moon…. Future generations will draw inspiration from his spirit of discovery, humble composure and pioneering leadership in setting a bold new course for space exploration.”
Sitting in the front row along with John Glenn, 91, the first American to orbit the Earth, were Armstrong’s fellow lunar explorer Buzz Aldrin, 82, who did not address the service but penned a tribute to his friend and crewmate in yesterday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal.
“Thinking about Neil, I was reminded of the statement attributed to Sir Isaac Newton in the 17th century, when he attempted to explain how he was able to develop a powerful understanding of physics and mathematics: ‘If I have seen further, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.’ For the Apollo program, Neil was that giant,” Aldrin wrote.
Prayers – including a traditional Celtic prayer – were led during the cathedral service by Michael Collins, the Apollo 11 mission’s command module pilot, who remained in lunar orbit while Armstrong and Aldrin touched down.
Frank Sinatra’s Fly Me to the Moon, delivered by one of Armstrong’s favourite performers, the Canadian jazz pianist and singer Diana Krall, had the congregation dabbing at their eyes.
The key tribute came from Apollo 17 astronaut Gene Cernan, who in 1972 became the last person to leave footprints on the Moon. One of Armstrong’s closest friends, he choked up several times during the address.
“How does one adequately express his feelings about a special friend, when that friend is also a world icon, a national hero of unimaginable proportion and a legend whose name will live in history long after all here today have been forgotten?” he asked.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Thursday 20 June 2013
Temperature: 12 C to 21 C
Wind Speed: 7 mph
Wind direction: South east
Temperature: 11 C to 19 C
Wind Speed: 12 mph
Wind direction: West