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Neil Armstrong and Lance Armstrong, a tale of two heroes

Astronaut Neil Armstrong in space suit in 1969.

Astronaut Neil Armstrong in space suit in 1969. Credit: AP

Lance Armstrong. Neil Armstrong. The coincidental downfall of one hero named Armstrong and the passing of another with the same last name within a few days is too irresistible to not remark on.

One is the invincible cyclist who conquered cancer and went on ascend to his sport’s galaxy of stars by winning its greatest race, the Tour de France, an unprecedented seven times — only to be brought down hard in recent days by doping allegations that he finally declined to fight.

The other, of course, is the humble Navy fighter pilot and astronaut who actually ascended into space and became the first of us to set foot on the distant, formerly unreachable, mysterious and glowing sphere, our moon.

By ending his fight against doping authorities, effectively surrendering his cycling titles, Lance Armstrong, perhaps, will hold onto the affection of many fans who want to believe that he never cheated. With no decisive court ruling against him, his guilt or innocence will remain in doubt. He’ll remain a hero to many, but an ambiguous figure to others.

Neil Armstrong, on the other hand, seems to be one of the nation’s truly unassailable heroes, and a man who never sought to capitalize on his fame.

“I am, and ever will be, a white socks, pocket protector, nerdy engineer,“ he said in 2000 in a rare public appearance. 

Everyone is human, of course, and we’re reminded every day that we all have foibles. One never knows what might be learned later about the humanity of Neil Armstrong. But for now, as we wonder with disappointment about Lance Armstrong, perhaps we can take comfort that a genuine hero really did walk among us -- and in a place far beyond us. Neil Armstrong deserves our thanks and admiration still.

Pictured: Neil Armstrong in a space suit in 1969 (AP Photo)