Neil Armstrong Facts: The First Man on the Moon
From the time he hit his teens in his native state of Ohio, Neil Armstrong felt a passion for flying, a desire to break the bonds of Earth and launch himself into space. By the age of 16, before he could drive a car, he had earned his pilot’s license. After high school he was accepted at Purdue University to study aeronautical engineering. For his master’s he attended the University of Southern California. He served in Korea from 1949 to 1952 as a naval aviator.
Neil Armstrong – Pic from NASA
Joining the Space Program
By the time Armstrong was 26 he was a member of the government’s Man In Space Soonest (MISS) program, a U.S. Air Force program dedicated to launching a manned flight vehicle into space before the Russians succeeded at doing the same thing. He was also a member of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the forerunner of NASA, in 1955.
In 1958 the MISS program was cancelled before it ever achieved success. Two of its members, however, did reach outer space: The first was Joseph A. Walker, who traveled twice via the American experimental X-15 aircraft to the edge of outer space on research-gathering expeditions. The second person was Neil Armstrong, who secured his place in history as the first man ever to walk on the Moon.
Before that could happen, however, he participated in the Air Force’s X-20 Dyna-Soar program to develop space craft, and then he joined the government’s NASA Astronaut’s Corps in 1962. After that came Project Mercury.
But it was not until the Gemini program that he actually got his first taste of outer space. Gemini saw the launch of ten manned missions, and Armstrong participated in Gemini VIII, which successfully docked with an unmanned Agena target vehicle but then was aborted because of a thruster malfunction. Commander Armstrong and his pilot David Scott were rescued from the waters of Japan in March 1966. The Gemini program ended later that year, and Apollo was officially underway.
The first Apollo mission was the tragedy that saw the deaths of three astronauts in a pre-launch cabin fire—Gus Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee all died in the catastrophe. Of the next several Apollo missions, several were unmanned, and others were manned but were limited to equipment tests or orbits around the Earth or Moon. It was not until Apollo 11, commanded by Neil Armstrong, that the first humans actually set foot on the Moon, on July 20, 1969.
Controversy Over Commemoration
The phrase that commemorated this event was one that Armstrong thought about quite a bit. People from all over the U.S. sent him their suggestions for a first phrase. He discussed his choice carefully with his wife. When he left the lunar module and touched the Moon’s surface, his phrase was recorded for posterity as “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
When Armstrong returned to Earth, however, he saw his quote in print and said it was wrong—he claimed he had said “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” Journalists insisted that they had not misquoted him—insinuating, obviously, that he did not know what he had said. But the people at Snopes—perhaps the world’s definitive clearinghouse for rumour, urban legend, and innuendo—took the man at his word: If he claimed he said “for a man,” then that’s probably what he said.
Life After the Space Program
After Apollo 11, Armstrong vowed he would not return to space. He held a desk job at NASA for about a year before returning to his beloved Ohio to teach at the University of Cincinnati. He did not completely abandon his space roots, however. He was on hand at astronaut Jim Lovell’s home to distract Lovell’s mother during the Apollo 13 disaster, and he helped put together a chronological events of that mission. In 1986, after the Challenger’s explosion, he served on the Rogers Commission to investigate that tragedy. He actually joined the board of directors of Thiokol, faulted by many for manufacturing the defective rocket boosters responsible for the Challenger explosion.
Mostly, he stayed out of the public spotlight, refusing commercial sponsorships offered to him except for a few here and there—serving as a spokesman for Chrysler because he liked the company and a few additional American companies.
But Armstrong was beloved the world over. The Boys Scouts of America claimed him as one of their own, as he had always been proud of status as an Eagle Scout. He received multiple honorary doctorates and was medalled by 17 different governments throughout the world.
He visited the town of Langholm in Scotland, home of his ancestors, honoured by town officials who gave him entry via horse-drawn carriage, and he was the first man given free reign of the city. In fact, the chief magistrate repealed a 400-year-old law ordering the hanging of any Armstrong found within the town limits, according to biographer James R. Hansen. Armstrong got quite a kick out of this ceremony and stated wryly, “I have read a good deal of the history of this region and it is my feeling that the Armstrongs have been dreadfully misrepresented.”
In his personal life, he refused to align himself with any religion and called himself a “deist.” He refused to identify any one political party as his own, unlike a couple other astronauts. He refused to give autographs because he didn’t want people to sell them, and in 2005 he threatened to sue his barber for selling a piece of his hair. The matter was settled when the barber agreed to donate his profits to charity. Armstrong married twice and fathered three children, one of whom died at age 3.
Neil Armstrong died at the age of 82 on August 25, 2012, from complications following open-heart surgery. Six days after his death, on August 31, people who lived in Armstrong’s half of the world witnessed a blue moon, which refers to the rare event of a second full moon occurring within a given month. Mother Nature, it seems, had given him her own special farewell.
Apollo 11 Lunar Surface Journal http://www.history.nasa.gov/alsj/a11/a11.step.html
Johnston, Willie. Recalling Moon Man’s Muckle Leap. BBC News Channel, July 20, 2009, at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/scotland/8158762.stm
Hansen, James R. First Man: The Life of Neil A Armstrong. Simon and Schuster, 2006, page 13.