Pilot, Engineer, and Astronaut
Neil Armstrong was born in Wapakoneta, Ohio, on August 5, 1930. While attending Purdue University, Armstrong interrupted his studies to serve in the Korean War. As a Navy pilot he flew 78 missions – F9F Panther fighter-bombers from an aircraft carrier off the coast of North Korea. He received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Aeronautical Engineering from Purdue University, and a Master of Science in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Southern California. Neil Armstrong had a reputation for being humble and valuing his privacy. And he holds many honorary degrees, awards, and recognition from many universities, scientific societies, and governments within the US and abroad, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
In 1955, Armstrong joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which later became the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). He was an engineer, test pilot, astronaut and an agency administrator. He was a pilot on many many projects. including pioneering high speed aircraft, such as the 4000-mph X-15, and he flew over 200 different models of aircraft, including jets, rockets, helicopters and gliders. In 1962, Armstrong became an astronaut.
To the Moon in 1969
Armstrong earned the distinction of being the first man to land an aircraft on the moon, and the first to step on the moon’s surface.
As a command pilot for the Gemini 8 in March 1966, with his partner David Scott, Armstrong performed the second spacewalk and the first successful docking of two vehicles in space. Armstrong was known for his clear thinking and expert piloting during a crisis. One example is how he brought the Gemini under control when it seemed spinning out of control. The techniques Armstrong developed were incorporated into training for all future astronauts.
During training for the Apollo mission, Armstrong was flying a rocket-like Lunar Training Vehicle on May 6, 1968 when it crashed. Armstrong ejected and parachuted to safety. Armstrong not only was able to maneuver his safety but helped to diagnose the cause of the trouble so that vehicle was repaired and the training resumed.
Armstrong was the spacecraft commander for the Apollo 11 mission, flying with Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Mike Collins on the first manned lunar landing mission. On July 16, 1969, they were launched by a Saturn V rocket from Kennedy Space Center in Merritt Island, Florida. The Apollo spacecraft had three parts: a Command Module with a cabin for the three astronauts which was the only part which landed back on Earth; a Service Module containing propulsion, electrical power, oxygen and water; and a Lunar Excursion Module for landing on the Moon. After separating from Saturn, the astronauts traveled in the Apollo spacecraft for three days until they entered into lunar orbit. With Armstrong manually controlling the Lunar Excursion Module’s flight and moon landing, Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the moon in the Sea of Tranquility, while Mike Collins commanded the Apollo capsule. There Armstrong took photos of Buzz Aldrin. The two planted an American flag on the moon’s surface, and collected rock samples. They stayed a total of about 21½ hours on the lunar surface, including about 2½ hours outside the spacecraft. After lifting off in the upper part of the Lunar Module, they rejoined Collins in the Command Module, they returned to Earth and landed in the Pacific Ocean on July 24.
As he stepped onto the moon Armstrong said, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
To the Moon in the 19th Century
Armstrong’s 20th Century step represented a giant leap in scientific achievement and hope for space exploration. He has inspired scientists, engineers, pilots and astronauts for generations to come.
Here is a poem “To the Moon”, by Percy Bysshe Shelley. Written 200 years earlier, it is how imagination helped us travel to the moon, at a time when science could not:
Art thou pale for weariness
Of climbing heaven and gazing on the earth,
Among the stars that have a different birth, —
And ever changing, like a joyless eye
That finds no object worth its constancy?
Thou chosen sister of the Spirit,
That gazes on thee till in thee it pities …