A giant leap it certainly was
Who was the greatest explorer the world has ever known?
Was it Ferdinand Magellan, who first sailed around the planet, invoking one of my favourite words from my childhood: "circumnavigation"?
Was it Marco Polo, who opened up the trade routes from Europe to China?
Was is Christopher Columbus, who discovered America? Or Hernan Cortes, whose Spanish ships found South America and plundered the Aztecs?
Or Roald Amundsen, who reached the North and South Poles first and opened up the Northwest Passage?
Was it an intellectual adventurer such as Galileo, who postulated that the earth was not the centre of the universe, going against religious doctrine at the time that could have led to him being burned as an heretic?
Each made his mark, to be sure, but there is no greater adventure than to travel to Earth's nearest celestial body, the moon. And to be the first person to step foot on it. That honour goes to Neil Armstrong, who died this weekend, aged 82.
Armstrong is the first member of an exclusive club of only 12 men who have set foot on the moon (24 made the trip there but many stayed in the orbiting spacecraft) of the 528 intrepid explorers who made it up into space).
Armstrong's journey represented the pinnacle of human achievement - to set foot on another planet.
It took place against the Cold War space race of the 1960s and was the heroic purpose of the atomic age - the ability to get off the planet and visit another. Only Yuri Gagarin's trip into space as the first human to do so can compare. The Russian was apparently chosen for the honour not only because he was short and would fit in the cramped capsule easier, but because he was handsome and would look good in the PR photographs afterwards.
It's easy to overlook the magnitude of that moon journey in this age of smartphones and wireless internet access. But to reach our next-door neighbour is one of the great engineering and scientific feats of humanity.
Computing was still in its infancy then, especially portable computers that could be taken to the moon.
Armstrong, a quiet man who eschewed publicity, led the Apollo 11 mission which represented one of the greatest technological leaps forward of the human age. Much of our modern technology had its genesis in that early moon adventure - including cordless power tools, wireless helmets, freeze-dried food, memory foam and emergency "space blankets".
Columbus used the most sophisticated technology of his day - Spanish galleon and the sextant - to reach the New World. Climbing Everest is still thought of as one of humanity's greatest achievements, using new-fangled technology such as oxygen cylinders in the 1950s to scale the heights and overcome the nausea of altitude sickness.
Armstrong will be remembered as much for what he did and said, but also for what he didn't say. His famous line: "That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind" - is as eternal a statement of triumph as any in human history, but without the indefinite article it is forever universal. Not a man, but Man.
(Sir Edmund Hillary's words to his friend George Lowe on the way down Everest - "Well, George, we knocked the bastard off" - has never had the same resonance, has it?)
Armstrong's other famous line - "The Eagle has landed" - is as much a part of popular culture. What is often forgotten is that the Eagle landed in the aptly named Sea of Tranquility (Mare Tranquillitatis).
Armstrong's partner, Buzz Aldrin, forever the other man in second place, took a memorable photo of him after his walkabout.
Armstrong, clearly fatigued, has a look of joy and excitement. It's how I will remember him, not in his bouncing, over-sized space suit, itself a marvel of engineering. The first man on the moon, flush with the exhilaration of his achievement.
A man who took our giant leap.