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Neil Armstrong 'opened a frontier' for all humanity, JPL head says

August 25, 2012 |  3:14 pm

Armstrong

The director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said he doesn’t know whether Neil Armstrong watched the Curiosity rover land on Mars this month. But he’s sure the world’s most famous astronaut would have liked what he saw.

The landing of the largest and most advanced spacecraft hurled onto another planet was in many ways a tribute to the first person to step on the moon, and to the celestial frontier he had helped blaze.

“He was Mr. Space, the one who really opened that frontier,” JPL Director Charles Elachi said Saturday. “I would imagine he would have been excited that we were going beyond the moon and possibly opening a future for human missions to Mars.”

PHOTOS: Neil Armstrong dead at 82

“I’m sure if Neil Armstrong was watching the landing of Curiosity, he would have been cheering that next step to what he had done,” the JPL director continued.

Elachi said he couldn’t watch the tracks left on the red planet by the Curiosity, Spirit and Opportunity rovers without thinking of the boot prints famously left behind on the moon by Armstrong.

Elachi said he was a student at Caltech when he watched Armstrong step on the lunar surface. He said he got to meet Armstrong years ago at events in Washington, D.C., and was always humbled not just by Armstrong's historic stature but also by the courage his feat made manifest.

“In those days, just going into orbit was a major feat,” Elachi said. “And to be the first person to land on the moon, as he and Buzz Aldrin did -- you had to respect that kind of boldness and courage.”

Elachi said that when he first saw the news that Armstrong had died, he felt “sadness that an icon had passed away,” but he also thought about the smile on the face of Armstrong, still clad in his spacesuit, after he returned from the moon landing more than 40 years ago.

“This guy really opened a frontier for all of humanity,” Elachi said. “I was inspired to work in science and math in large part because of watching that landing. Millions of people around the world and in the United States were inspired when they saw that a human could land on the moon.”

PHOTOS: Apollo 11 mission

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-- Hector Becerra

Photo: Neil Armstrong, commander of Apollo 11, speaks to a technician during a suiting at the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Getty Images

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