MOST Jamaicans above the age of 50 will no doubt remember July 20, 1969. That was the day when the United States took space research to a new and exciting level by successfully landing human beings on the moon.
In that significant moment, the first man to step onto the lunar surface — astronaut Mr Neil Armstrong — etched his name into history and has been remembered the world over for his first words as his feet touched the soil: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
The world was reminded of that profound statement on Saturday when news emerged that Mr Armstrong had died at age 82.
His obituary, published in yesterday's Sunday Observer, described him as "a quiet self-described nerdy engineer who became a global hero" and a man "who had people on Earth entranced and awed from almost a quarter million miles away".
It was a most fitting description, we believe, for we are told that Mr Armstrong avoided the glamour of the space programme and that an estimated 600 million people watched and listened to the moon landing.
Surprisingly, Mr Armstrong revealed in 2000, when he was asked to announce the top 20 engineering achievements of the 20th century, that he "never had a dream about being on the moon".
However, we sense that he recognised the importance of the Apollo II mission to the advancement of technology on Earth, as he was reported as telling an Australian television interviewer this year that while the moon landing was special and memorable, it was only instantaneous because there was work to be done.
Of course, over the years, space research — despite its colossal expense — has certainly worked to the benefit of man.
For instance, technologies used in search and rescue systems, as well as in hospitals and derived from National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) research have helped to save lives.
Space research also resulted in the use of Teflon-coated fibreglass as roofing material for buildings and stadia.
The portable cooling systems used to treat burning limb syndrome, multiple sclerosis, spinal injuries, and sports injuries are spin-offs from the liquid-cooled garments worn by astronauts under their space suits to protect them from extremely high temperatures.
In 1995, Mr David Saucier, an engineer at Johnson Space Centre and Dr Michael DeBakey of the Baylor College of Medicine used the design of NASA's space shuttle main engine fuel pumps to develop an artificial heart pump.
The space research programme has also resulted in the creation of a lightweight breathing system for firefighters, while the Jaws of Life used by firefighters to rescue people from crashed motor vehicles was designed from the technology that allowed the space shuttle to be separated from its booster rockets.
Mr Armstrong, we suspect, must have looked on at these developments with a sense of satisfaction and, most naturally, pride in knowing that the role he and his fellow astronauts played in the advancement of the space programme was worth the effort.
One of Mr Armstrong's colleagues is reported as saying that he didn't like being a novelty. The fact, though, is that he was more than that. He was a hero.
May his soul rest in peace.