Neil Armstrong: The Pop Culturenaut

Neil ArmstrongNeil Armstrong‘s death was a reminder of just how huge the impact was of his touchdown on lunar soil. Not just to NASA, not just to the United States, but to the entire world. He was a true hero; the type of person that really made you believe that humans were capable of truly extraordinary things. Things beyond our wildest imaginations. Who didn’t dream of growing up to be an astronaut at least once in their childhood?

It is estimated that over 450 million people heard his iconic words–“that’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”–on the evening of July 20, 1969; nearly 13% of the world’s population at the time (estimated 3.61 billion). From that moment on, humans were no longer tethered to the confines of earth. The world was at the beginning of an explosion of scientific knowledge and speculation about the universe that lived outside our proverbial doorstep.

Armstrong’s impact continues to reverberate within people: it is regularly retold, re-explained, and played with in popular culture. People have dedicated movies, documentaries, miniseries and other programs to the monumental event. So what better way to honor the impact of this heroic figure than to see how his influence shaped the landscape he left us here on the ground. We’ve cultivated a few choice moments from the past few years to pay tribute to the legacy that shaped a generation and show just how giant a leap he made all those years ago.

Neil’s Parents on I’ve Got a Secret: On the very day that Armstrong was accepted into the newest NASA space program, his parents were asked and then flown out to New York to film the popular show. Talk about turnaround! The best part, of course, is when Host Garry Moore asks an incredibly apt question. “Now, how would you feel, Mrs. Armstrong, if it turned out – of course nobody knows – but if it turns out that your son is the first man to land on the moon? What, how do, how would you feel?” Of course now we all know that to be exactly what Neil Armstrong did, but given that the question was asked seven years before the event actually took place, well that’s just really f**king cool.

MTV Lands On The Moon…Sort Of: The classic and original MTV logo was all about the moon landing (where do you think they got the idea for the moonmen statue?), and was a nod to how groundbreaking both events were in popular culture.

Transforming History: Remember when Michael Bay decided to tweak history for the sake of giant metal robots in Transformers 3? Spoiler alert! Neil Armstrong didn’t just walk on the moon, he and Apollo 11 discovered Autobot technology in a conspiracy-theory setting from when Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin “lost transmission” during their lunar walk, because of course they did.

Doctor Who‘s Secret Weapon: The flight of Apollo 11 was recently featured in the Matt Smith iteration of popular British show Doctor Who. The funniest line from the episode was related to Armstrong’s vital role to, um, history? “Apollo 11 is your secret weapon?” – “No, no, it’s not Apollo 11; that would be silly. It’s Neil Armstrong’s foot!” The ship even nabbed itself a song on the soundtrack.

HBO’s From the Earth to the Moon: The HBO miniseries From the Earth To the Moon about the Apollo 11 landing was appointment television, at least in my household. Gathered in the living room with my brother, sister, mother, and grandparents, we never missed an episode. Complete with been-there commentary from my grandfather’s memory of the event, and well, what else is there to say? Played by Tony Goldwyn (with Bryan Cranston as Buzz Aldrin!), the Tom Hanks-helmed event was a fitting tribute to everyone involved in the historic mission.

Neil Armstrong’s Back-Up: The 1995 film Apollo 13 wasn’t about the Armstrong mission of Apollo 11, but it did feature the families of these future astronauts gathered around the television to watch the big landing. It was a nice tribute to the legendary moon man, and also an interesting juxtaposition considering how bad things were to get for the crew of unlucky number thirteen. Our boy Hanks strikes again with another movie about the Apollo program. Sounds like somebody had a bit of an astronaut phase!

Visits to Springfield: Armstrong also appeared in several episodes of The Simpsons. He voiced himself in the season 4 episode “Itchy & Scratchy: The Movie” and season 12 episode “Worst Episode Ever” thanks to archived audio of his famous line: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind!” though the moment was uncredited. In addition, Dan Castellaneta voiced Armstrong on the season 10 episode, “Mayored to the Mob.”

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First Man on the Moon, Neil Armstrong, Dead at 82