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Neil Alden Armstrong

Neil Alden Armstrong

The American astronaut Neil Alden Armstrong (born 1930) was the first person to walk on the moon.

Neil Armstrong was born on August 5, 1930, near Wapakoneta, Ohio, the eldest of three children of Stephen and Viola Engel Armstrong. Airplanes drew his interest from the age of six, when he took his first flight, and on his 16th birthday he was issued a pilot's license. A serious pilot even at this age, Armstrong built a small wind tunnel in the basement of his home and performed experiments on the model planes he had made.

Years of Training

Armstrong entered Purdue University in 1947 with a U.S. Navy scholarship. After two years of study he was called to active duty with the Navy and won his jet wings at Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida. At 20 he was the youngest pilot in his squadron. He flew 78 combat missions during the Korean War and won three Air Medals.

Armstrong returned to Purdue and completed a degree in aeronautical engineering in 1955. He immediately accepted a job with the Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) in Cleveland, Ohio. A year later he married Janet Shearon.

An Aeronautical Career

Shortly afterward, Armstrong transferred to the NACA High Speed Flight Station at Edwards Air Force Base, California. Here he became a skilled test pilot and flew the early models of such jet aircraft as the F-100, F-101, F-102, F-104, F-5D, and B-47. He also flew a B-29 "drop plane," from which various types of rocket-propelled planes were launched. More important for his later role, he became a pilot of the X-1B rocket plane, an earlier version of which had been the first plane to break the sound barrier.

Armstrong was selected as one of the first three pilots of NACA for the X-15 rocket plane, and he made seven flights in this prototype spacecraft. Once he set a record altitude of 207,500 feet and a speed of 3,989 miles per hour. Armstrong received an invitation from the American space-flight program, but he demonstrated little enthusiasm for becoming an astronaut. His real love was piloting. Largely because of his experience with the X-15, he was selected as a pilot of the Dynasoar, an experimental craft that could leave the atmosphere, orbit earth, reenter the atmosphere, and land like a conventional airplane.

Astronautics: A Step into Space

In 1962, however, sensing that the days of the projected Dynasoar were numbered (it was canceled in 1963), Armstrong decided to become an astronaut and applied for selection and training. In September 1962 he became America's first civilian astronaut and moved to Houston, Texas, to begin training. Armstrong's attitude toward his job, at least prior to his first space mission, was summed up in a statement to a reporter in 1965: "I rule out the possibility of agreeing to go up if I thought I might not come back, unless it were technically indispensable. Dying in space or on the moon is not technically indispensable and consequently if I had to choose between death while testing a jet and death on the moon, I'd choose death while testing a jet."

Armstrong's first flight assignment as an astronaut was as backup, or alternate, command pilot for Gordon Cooper of the Gemini 5 mission. Armstrong continued his specialized training on the Gemini spacecraft and was selected as the command pilot for the Gemini 8 mission. With copilot David Scott he was launched from Cape Kennedy (now Cape Canaveral), Florida, on March 16, 1966. The Gemini 8 achieved orbit and docked as planned with the Agena vehicle, but shortly afterward the vehicle went out of control. Armstrong detached his craft from the Agena, corrected the malfunction, and brought the Gemini down in the Pacific Ocean only 1.1 nautical miles from the planned landing point. His cool and professional conduct made a strong impression on the officials of the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston. Armstrong continued his intensive training on the Gemini spacecraft and was selected as the backup command pilot for the Gemini 11 mission, which was flown, however, by astronauts Charles Conrad, Jr., and Richard Gordon.

As the training for the Apollo program got under way, it was obvious that Armstrong rated high among those being considered for the important role of being the first American on the moon. He undertook his training program with the same cool, analytical, and almost detached approach that had always marked his attitude to flying.

During a routine training flight on the lunar landing research vehicle, a training device that permits astronauts to maneuver a craft in a flight environment similar to that in landing on the moon, Armstrong's craft went out of control. He ejected himself and landed by parachute only yards away from the training vehicle, which had crashed in flames. With his usual imperturbability he walked away and calmly made his report. Again, his behavior and attitude were noted by those who were evaluating candidates for the first crew to the moon.

Selection for the Moon Mission

In January 1969 Armstrong was selected as commander for Apollo 11, the first lunar landing mission. On July 16 at 9:32 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time (EDT), Armstrong, together with astronauts Michael Collins and Edwin Aldrin, lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, aboard the Saturn 5 space booster.

Apollo 11 passed into the gravitational influence of the moon on July 18 and circled the moon twice. Armstrong and Aldrin entered the lunar module, named the Eagle, which then disconnected from the command and service module. As they descended toward the lunar surface, their computer became overloaded, but under continuous instructions from the mission control center at Houston, Armstrong continued the gradual touchdown. Suddenly a boulder field loomed in front of him. He quickly switched to manual control and guided the Eagle over it to a smooth landing with only 10 seconds of fuel left. At 4:17:40 P.M. EDT on July 20, a major portion of the earth population was listening to Armstrong's transmission, "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed." At 10:56 P.M. he set foot on the moon, saying, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." (Later, he stated that he had intended to say, "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.")

Armstrong and Aldrin spent nearly two and a half hours walking on the moon. Armstrong reported: "The surface is fine and powdery. I can pick it up loosely with my toe. It does adhere in fine layers like powdered charcoal to the soles and sides of my boots. I only go in a fraction of an inch, may be an eighth of an inch, but I can see the footprints of my boots." The astronauts deployed various scientific instruments on the moon's surface, including a seismograph and solar-wind particle collector, and collected rock and soil samples. They also left a mission patch and medals commemorating American and Russian space explorers who had died in the line of duty, along with a plaque reading, "Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon. We came in peace for all mankind."

Armstrong and Aldrin returned to the Eagle and launched themselves to rendezvous with Collins, who had been orbiting in the Columbia spacecraft. On July 24 Columbia returned to earth. It splashed down at 12:50 P.M. EDT some 950 miles southwest of Hawaii and only 2.7 miles from its aiming point. After 18 days of quarantine to control any lunar microorganisms, Armstrong and the others traveled around the world for parades and speeches. The mission brought honors including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Harmon International Aviation Trophy, the Royal Geographic Society's Hubbard Gold Medal, and accolades from many nations. Armstrong became a Fellow of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, the American Astronautical Society, and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Career after NASA

Apollo 11 was Armstrong's final space mission. He joined Nasa's Office of Advanced Research and Technology, where he served as deputy associate administrator for aeronautics. One of his main priorities in this position was to further research into controlling high-performance aircraft by computer. In 1970 he earned a master's degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Southern California.

A private man, Armstrong rejected most opportunities to profit from his fame. He left NASA in 1971 and moved his family back to Ohio to accept a position at the University of Cincinnati. There he spent seven years engaged in teaching and research as a professor of aerospace engineering. He took special interest in the application of space technology to such challenges as improving medical devices and providing data on the environment. In 1978 Armstrong was one of the first six recipients of the congressional Space Medal of Honor, created to recognize astronauts whose "exceptionally meritorious efforts" had contributed to "the welfare of the Nation and mankind."

A member of the board of directors of Gates Learjet Corporation, in 1979 he piloted that company's new business jet to five world-altitude and time-to-climb records for that class of aircraft. Other boards Armstrong served on included those of USCX Corporation and United Airlines. In between his business ventures and such hobbies as fishing and sail-planing, he also chaired the board of trustees of the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History.

Armstrong did accept two further government appointments. In 1984 he was named to the National Commission on Space, which two years later completed a report outlining an ambitious future for American space programs. Also in 1986, Armstrong was named deputy chair of the Rogers Commission to investigate the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. The commission's work resulted in major changes in NASA's management structure and safety practices.

From 1980 to 1982, Armstrong was chair of the board of Cardwell International. He accepted a similar post with Computing Technologies for Aviation (CTA) in 1982. CTA, which was based in Charlottesville, Virginia, provided software for flight scheduling and support activities, allowing corporate jet operators to maximize the efficient use of their aircraft. Armstrong stepped down as head of CTA in 1993. He later presided over the board of AIL Systems, Inc., an electronic systems company headquartered in Deer Park, New York.

In May 1997 Armstrong was named a director at Ohio National Financial Services Inc., a Cincinnati-based provider of diversified financial services. At that time, he also served on the boards of Cinergy Corp. and Cincinnati Milacron Inc. He maintained his residence at a farm near Lebanon, Ohio, and made occasional public appearances in nearby Wapakoneta, his boyhood home and the site of the Neil Armstrong Air & Space Museum.

Further Reading

Information on Armstrong's historic participation in the space program is contained in Chris Crocker, Great American Astronauts (1988), Buzz Aldrin and Malcolm McConnell, Men from Earth (1989), and Alan B. Shepard, Moon Shot: The Inside Story of America's Race to the Moon (1994). Armstrong, together with Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin, wrote a memoir of the Apollo 11 moon voyage in First on the Moon (1970). □

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Armstrong, Neil

Neil Armstrong

Born: August 5, 1930
Wapakoneta, Ohio

American astronaut

The American astronaut Neil Armstrong was the first person to walk on the moon. In one of the most famous remarks of the twentieth century, he called his first movements on the moon "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

Childhood interests

Neil Alden Armstrong was born on August 5, 1930, near Wapakoneta, Ohio. He was the eldest of three children of Stephen and Viola Engel Armstrong. Airplanes drew his interest from the age of six, when he took his first airplane ride. He began taking flying lessons at age fourteen, and on his sixteenth birthday he was issued a pilot's license. A serious pilot even at that age, Armstrong built a small wind tunnel (a tunnel through which air is forced at controlled speeds to study the effects of its flow) in the basement of his home. He also performed experiments using the model planes he had made. Through such activities he was preparing for what would be a distinguished career in aeronautics, or the design, construction, and navigation of aircrafts.

Armstrong was also interested in outer space at a young age. His fascination was fueled by a neighbor who owned a powerful telescope. Armstrong was thrilled with the views of the stars, the Moon, and the planets he saw through this device.

Years of training

Armstrong entered Indiana's Purdue University in 1947 with a U.S. Navy scholarship. After two years of study he was called to active duty with the navy and won his jet pilot wings at Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida. At twenty he was the youngest pilot in his squadron. He flew seventy-eight combat missions during the Korean War, a civil war from 1950 to 1953 between North and South Korea in which China fought on the Communist North Korean side and the United States fought to assist South Korea.

After the war Armstrong returned to Purdue and completed a degree in aeronautical engineering in 1955. He immediately accepted a job with the Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) in Cleveland, Ohio. A year later he married Janet Shearon.

Aeronautical career

Shortly afterward Armstrong transferred to the NACA High Speed Flight Station at Edwards Air Force Base in California. Here he became a skilled test pilot and flew the early models of such jet aircraft as the F-100, F-101, F-102, F-104, F-5D, and B-47. He was also a pilot of the X-1B rocket plane, a later version of the first plane that broke through the sound barrier (the dragging effect of air on a plane as it approaches the speed of sound).

Armstrong was selected as one of the first three NACA pilots to fly the X-15 rocket-engine plane. He made seven flights in this plane, which was a kind of early model for future spacecraft. Once he set a record altitude of 207,500 feet and a speed of 3,989 miles per hour. Armstrong also received an invitation from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) American space-flight program, but he showed little enthusiasm for becoming an astronaut. His real love was flying planes. Largely because of his experience with the X-15, he was selected as a pilot of the Dynasoar, an experimental craft that could leave the atmosphere, orbit earth, reenter the atmosphere, and land like a conventional airplane.

Becoming an astronaut

In 1962 Armstrong decided to become an astronaut and applied for NASA selection and training. In September 1962 he became America's first nonmilitary astronaut. His first flight assignment as an astronaut was as a backup, or alternate, pilot for Gordon Cooper of the Gemini 5 mission. (Space programs created around a certain spacecraft type are given names such as Gemini or Apollo, while individual missions within these programs are numbered, such as Gemini 5. )

Armstrong continued his specialized training on the Gemini spacecraft and was selected as the command pilot for the Gemini 8 mission. With copilot David Scott he was launched from Cape Kennedy (now Cape Canaveral), Florida, on March 16, 1966. The Gemini 8 achieved orbit and docked as planned with another orbiting vehicle, but shortly afterward the Gemini 8 went out of control. Armstrong detached his craft, corrected the problem, and brought Gemini 8 down in the Pacific Ocean only 1.1 nautical miles from the planned landing point.

Armstrong's cool and professional conduct made a strong impression on his superiors as the training for the Apollo program was developing. During a routine training flight on the lunar (moon) landing research vehicle (a training device that permits astronauts to maneuver a craft in a flight environment similar to that in landing on the Moon), Armstrong's craft went out of control. He ejected (forced out) himself and landed by parachute only yards away from the training vehicle, which had crashed in flames. With his usual controlled emotions, he walked away and calmly made his report.

Apollo 11 mission

In January 1969 Armstrong was selected as commander for Apollo 11, the first lunar landing mission. On July 16 at 9:32 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time (EDT), Armstrong, with astronauts Michael Collins and Edwin Aldrin, lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Apollo 11 passed into the gravitational influence (pull of gravity) of the moon on July 18 and circled the moon twice. Armstrong and Aldrin entered a lunar module (a small spacecraft) named the Eagle, which then disconnected from the larger command and service module named Columbia. As they descended toward the lunar surface, their computer became overloaded, but under instructions from the mission control center in Houston, Texas, Armstrong managed to land the module. At 4:17:40 p.m. EDT on July 20, a major portion of the Earth's population was listening to Armstrong's radio transmission reporting that the Eagle had landed. At 10:56 p.m. he set foot on the moon, saying, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

Armstrong and Aldrin spent nearly two and a half hours walking on the moon. The astronauts set up various scientific instruments on the surface and left behind a plaque (metal plate) reading, "Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon. We came in peace for all mankind." Armstrong and Aldrin then returned to the Eagle and launched themselves to meet up again with Collins, who had been orbiting in the Columbia spacecraft. On July 24 Columbia returned to earth.

Career after NASA

Apollo 11 was Armstrong's final space mission. He joined NASA's Office of Advanced Research and Technology, where one of his main activities was to promote research into controlling high-performance aircraft by computer. In 1971 he began working at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio, where he spent seven years as a professor of aerospace engineering.

Armstrong did continue some government work. In 1984 he was named to the National Commission on Space, which completed a report outlining an ambitious future for U.S. space programs. He was also a leader of a government commission to investigate the disastrous explosion of the Challenger space shuttle that occurred in January 1986.

Armstrong has worked for several corporations since his astronaut days, including a position as chairman of AIL Systems, Inc., an aerospace electronics manufacturer. In 1999 he was honored at a ceremony at the National Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., where he received the Langley Medal in honor of the thirtieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission. Armstrong also makes occasional public appearances at the Neil Armstrong Air & Space Museum in his hometown of Wapakoneta, Ohio.

For More Information

Aldrin, Buzz, and Malcolm McConnell. Men From Earth. New York: Bantam, 1989.

Connolly, Sean. Neil Armstrong: An Unauthorized Biography. Des Plaines, IL: Heinemann Library, 1999.

Kramer, Barbara. Neil Armstrong: The First Man on the Moon. Springfield, NJ: Enslow Publishers, 1997.

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Armstrong, Neil (1930- )

Armstrong, Neil (1930- )

American astronaut

Neil Armstrong was the first human to stand on the Moon . The former test pilot's lunar stroll on July 20, 1969 marked the pinnacle of the most ambitious engineering project ever undertaken. Afterwards, Armstrong pursued a career in aerospace teaching, research, and business.

Neil Alden Armstrong was fascinated by flying from the time of his first airplane ride when he was a six-year-old boy in Ohio. He was the son of Stephen Armstrong, an auditor who moved his family several times during Armstrong's childhood. When Neil was 13, Stephen and his wife, the former Viola Louise Engel, along with Neil and his younger brother and sister, settled in the town of Wapakoneta. Armstrong earned his pilot's license before his driver's license, and at sixteen was not only flying airplanes, but also experimenting with a wind tunnel he had built in his basement. He worked a variety of jobs to pay for his flying lessons and also played in a jazz band, pursuing the musical interest that remained a hobby throughout his life. Armstrong earned a Navy scholarship to Purdue University, which he entered in 1947. His schooling was interrupted when the Navy called him to active duty. Armstrong soon qualified as a Navy pilot, and he was flying combat missions in Korea at the age of 20. He flew 78 missions, earning three air medals.

After the Korean conflict, Armstrong left the navy and returned to Purdue. In 1955, he earned his bachelor's in aerospace engineering. In 1956, he married fellow Purdue student Janet Shearon. By then, Armstrong was a test pilot for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the forerunner of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). At NACA's facility at Edwards Air Force Base in California, Armstrong flew a variety of aircraft under development. In 1960, Armstrong made his first of seven trips to the fringes of space in the X15 rocket plane. The X15, a sleek craft air-launched from a B52 bomber and landed on Edwards's famous dry lake bed, gathered data about highspeed flight and atmospheric reentry that influenced many future designs, including the space shuttle .

When the astronaut program was first announced, Armstrong discounted it, believing that the winged X15 design and not the Mercury capsule was the better approach to space. After John Glenn made the first U.S. orbital flight in 1962, Armstrong changed his mind and applied for NASA's astronaut corps. He was accepted into the second group of astronauts, becoming the first civilian to be chosen. In March, 1966, after serving as a backup for the Gemini-Titan 5 mission, Armstrong made his first space flight as commander of Gemini-Titan 8. On this mission, Armstrong's capsule achieved the first docking between spacecraft in orbit. After docking the Gemini spacecraft to the Agena target vehicle, however, the combined vehicles began to tumble uncontrollably. Armstrong and co-astronaut David Scott disengaged the Agena and found the problem was a thruster on their capsule that was firing continuously. They had to shut down the flight control system to stop it, an action that forced the two astronauts to abort their flight.

Armstrong moved on to the moon-bound Apollo program. He was instrumental in adding a system that, in the event of a failure of the Saturn 5 booster's guidance system, would allow the astronauts to fly the enormous vehicle manually. Armstrong was on the backup crew for Apollo 8, and in January, 1969, was selected to command Apollo 11. The crew included lunar module pilot Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin Jr. and command module pilot Michael Collins. Armstrong carried with him a piece of fabric and a fragment of a propeller from American aviators Wilbur and Orville Wrights' first airplane.

On July 20, 1969, the spider-shaped lunar module Eagle carried Armstrong and Aldrin toward the Sea of Tranquility. The pre-selected landing area turned out to be much rougher than thought, and Armstrong was forced to guide the Eagle over the terrain until he found a vacant site. The two men finally brought their craft to a soft landing with approximately thirty seconds' worth of fuel remaining. "The Eagle has landed," Armstrong reported. Almost seven hours later, he climbed down the ladder and took the epochal first step on the moon. Television viewers around the world watched as the astronaut in his bulky white suit uttered the words, "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind." (Viewers did not hear the word "a"; Armstrong later explained that his voice-operated microphone, which "can lose you a syllable," failed to transmit the word.)

Joined by Aldrin, Armstrong spent nearly three hours walking on the moon. The astronauts deployed experiments, gathered samples, and planted an American flag. They also left a mission patch and medals commemorating American and Russian space explorers who had died in the line of duty, along with a plaque reading, "Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon. We came in peace for all mankind." Then the three men took their command module Columbia safely back to Earth. Armstrong and the other Apollo 11 astronauts then traveled around the world for parades and speeches. The mission brought honors including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Harmon International Aviation Trophy, the Royal Geographic Society's Hubbard Gold Medal, and other accolades from a total of seventeen nations. Armstrong became a Fellow of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, the American Astronautical Society, and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Apollo 11 was Armstrong's final space mission. He moved to NASA's Office of Advanced Research and

Technology, where he served as deputy associate administrator for aeronautics. One of his major priorities in this position was to further research into controlling high-performance aircraft by computer. In 1970, he earned his master's degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Southern California.

A quiet man who values his privacy, Armstrong rejected most opportunities to profit from his fame. He left NASA in 1971, and moved his family back to Ohio to accept a position at the University of Cincinnati. There he spent seven years engaged in teaching and research as a professor of aerospace engineering. He took special interest in the application of space technology to challenges on Earth such as improving medical devices and providing data on the environment. In 1978, Armstrong was one of the first six recipients of the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, created to recognize astronauts whose "exceptionally meritorious efforts" had contributed to "the welfare of the Nation and mankind."

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Armstrong, Neil

Armstrong, Neil

American Astronaut; First Human on the Moon 1930-

Born in Wapakoneta, Ohio, on August 5, 1930, Neil Alden Armstrong became a naval aviator in 1949. He received a bachelor of science degree in aeronautical engineering from Purdue University in 1955 and a master of sciences degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Southern California in 1970. Armstrong received an honorary doctorate in engineering from Purdue in 1970 and has been awarded additional honorary doctorates by various universities since that time.

In 1955 Armstrong became a research test pilot for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) assigned to the X-15 rocket plane program. NASA selected Armstrong to be an astronaut in 1962. On March 16, 1966, Armstrong and Dave Scott were launched in Gemini 8 to conduct the first two-craft linkup in space, docking with a target satellite named Agena. Apollo 11 astronauts Armstrong, Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, and Mike Collins left for the Moon on July 16, 1969. Armstrong and Aldrin landed their lunar module "Eagle" in the Moon's Sea of Tranquility four days later, on July 20. Armstrong stepped onto the surface and became the first human to set foot on the Moon.

Armstrong left NASA in 1971 and became a professor of aeronautical engineering at the University of Cincinnati, where he taught until 1981. He is currently the chairman of Computing Technologies for Aviation, Inc. (CTA).

see also Aldrin, Buzz (volume 1); Apollo (volume 3); Apollo Lunar Landing Sites (volume 3); History of Humans in Space (volume 3).

Frank R. Mignone

Bibliography

Chaikin, Andrew L. A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1998.

Ellis, Lee A. Who's Who of NASA Astronauts. New York: Americana Group Publishing, 2001.

Internet Resources

Astronaut Hall of Fame. "Neil Armstrong." <http://www.astronauts.org/astronauts/armstrong.htm>.

Astronaut Candidates See Career Astronauts (Volume 1).

Astronaut Corps See Career Astronauts (Volume 1).

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Armstrong, Neil Alden

Neil Alden Armstrong, 1930–2012, American astronaut, b. Wapakoneta, Ohio, grad. Purdue Univ. (B.S., 1955), Univ. of Southern California (M.S., 1970). A U.S. Navy fighter pilot during the Korean War, Armstrong became a test pilot for what was then the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics in 1955. In 1962, already a veteran of the X-15 rocket plane, Armstrong became a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) astronaut and served as command pilot of the Gemini 8 mission. As commander of Apollo 11 (July 16–24, 1969), he was the first person (July 20 EDST) to set foot on the moon, saying: "That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind" (the "a" was apparently lost in transmission due to static). After serving (1970–71) as an associate NASA administrator for aeronautics, Armstrong taught aeronautical engineering at the Univ. of Cincinnati from 1971 to 1979. In 1985, President Reagan appointed him to the National Commission on Space and in 1986 named him vice chairman of the panel that investigated the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger.

See his First on the Moon (1970), written with G. Farmer and D. Hamblin; biography by J. R. Hansen (2005).

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Armstrong, Neil Alden

Armstrong, Neil Alden (1930– ) US astronaut. He was chosen as a NASA astronaut in 1962, and was the command pilot for the Gemini 8 orbital flight in 1966. On July 20, 1969, he became the first man to walk on the Moon, remarking that it was “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”.

http://www.lerc.nasa.gov/WWW/PAO/html/neilabio.htm

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Armstrong, Neil

Neil Armstrong

Born August 5, 1930 (Wapakoneta, Ohio)

American astronaut

"[The Apollo 11 mission] was a culmination of the work of 300,000 to 400,000 people over a decade, and… the nation's hopes and outward appearance largely rested on how the results came out."

In 1957, the former Soviet Union launched the first Sputnik satellite (an object that orbits in space) to study the atmosphere of Earth, sending shock waves through American society. Since the end of World War II (1939–45), the United States and the Soviet Union had been engaged in a period of hostile relations known as the Cold War (1945–91). Not only were the two powers involved in an arms race for military superiority, but they were also competing for dominance in space. The Sputnik satellites were therefore a sign that the Soviet Union was moving ahead in the Cold War. In 1958 the United States responded by creating the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), which combined U.S. space research agencies and established an astronaut training program. Then, in the early 1960s, President John F. Kennedy (1917–1963; served 1961–63) made a pledge to put an American on the Moon by the end of the decade. On July 20, 1969, astronaut Neil Armstrong achieved that goal by stepping onto the surface of the Moon as millions of people throughout the world watched on television. Armstrong immediately became identified with human exploration of the Moon.


Young pilot becomes war hero

Neil Alden Armstrong was born on August 5, 1930, on a farm near Wapakoneta, Ohio, the oldest of three children of Stephen Armstrong and Viola Engel Armstrong. Neil became fascinated with flying at an early age. Among his first memories was attending air races in Cleveland as a two-year-old with his father. Four years later he took his first airplane ride in the skies above his hometown. Pursuing his interest in flight throughout his childhood and teenage years, Armstrong subscribed to aviation magazines and built model airplanes. To test the durability of his models, he constructed a wind tunnel with a fan in the basement of the family home. When he was fourteen Armstrong decided he wanted to take flying lessons. The lessons were expensive—nine dollars an hour—so he got a job at a local drugstore to earn the money. Paid forty cents an hour, he swept floors and stacked boxes. He rode his bicycle 3 miles to the Wapak Flying Service to take lessons. Within a year he flew solo, then earned his pilot's wings on his sixteenth birthday, even before he had gotten a driver's license.

A good student throughout his school years, Armstrong skipped first grade and did especially well in science and mathematics. He also enjoyed reading books on astronomy. While in high school he formed a small jazz band and played baritone horn; music continued to be his hobby during adulthood. Armstrong was active in Boy Scouts, and at age seventeen he became an Eagle Scout. After graduating from high school in 1947 he was awarded a U.S. Navy scholarship at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. Majoring in aeronautical engineering, he joined the Naval Air Cadet program.

Armstrong's college studies were interrupted two years later when he was called to active duty at the beginning of the Korean War (1950–53). Trained to fly fighter jets at Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida, the twenty-year-old was the youngest pilot in his squadron. During his service in Korea, Armstrong flew seventy-eight combat missions in F9F-2 fighter jets, winning three air medals. When the war was over he returned to Purdue and, in 1955, completed a degree in aeronautical engineering. After graduation he took a job with the Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) in Cleveland. In 1956 Armstrong married Janet Shearon, whom he had met at Purdue. The couple later had two sons, Mark and Eric; their daughter, Karen, died at age three.

Sets records as test pilot

Armstrong soon transferred to the NACA High Speed Flight Station at Edwards Air Force Base in California, where he became a test pilot. He flew numerous experimental aircraft, including the B-29, a "drop plane" used for launching rocket-propelled planes. He also piloted the X-1B rocket plane,

The Astronaut and the Boy Scout

When Neil Armstrong was a freshman in college, he became an Eagle Scout, the highest rank in the Boy Scout program. Years later, after he had gained fame as an astronaut hero, Armstrong helped another young Scout earn a merit badge. The Scout was Ken Drayton, who recalled the experience in an American Heritage magazine article in 1999.

In 1973, four years after Armstrong's walk on the Moon, Drayton was seventeen years old and living in Marietta, Ohio. He wanted to work on a space-exploration badge, which he needed to advance to Star rank in the Boy Scouts. This badge had only recently been added to the scouting program, so there were no counselors in Marietta who could help Drayton meet the requirements. After doing some research, he found that Armstrong was a professor of aeronautical engineering at the University of Cincinnati and lived on a farm near Lebanon, Ohio. Drayton decided to make the 150-mile drive to Armstrong's farm, hoping to meet the former astronaut and request his assistance. When Drayton arrived, he caught sight of Armstrong, who was dressed in jeans and a work shirt, remodeling the old farmhouse. Much to Drayton's surprise, Armstrong was open to the idea of assisting with the badge. He outlined a list of items he wanted Drayton to complete for the space-exploration badge.

An elated Drayton drove back home and set to work. After finishing the assignment, he waited anxiously for word from Armstrong. Finally, Armstrong sent a letter to Drayton's scoutmaster, stating, "In my opinion, [Drayton] has completed all requirements satisfactorily." On the thirtieth anniversary of Armstrong's walk on the Moon, Drayton wrote his article to pay tribute to the "former Eagle Scout [who] took the time to help another Scout achieve a goal."

a version of the first plane that had earlier broken the sound barrier (a sudden increase of air pressure on an airplane as it approaches the speed of sound). Armstrong was one of the first three NACA pilots to fly the X-15 rocket plane, an experimental spacecraft on which he made seven flights. Once, he set a record altitude of 207,500 feet (63,246 meters) and a speed of 3,989 miles (6,418 kilometers) per hour aboard the X-15. While at Edwards he was invited to join the NASA as tronaut program, but he declined. He was now a civilian pilot (at that time all astronauts were in the military). Moreover, he believed the X-15, which had wings, had greater potential for space travel than the Mercury capsule (small pressurized compartment or vehicle) being used by NASA. His experience with the X-15 led to his assignment by NACA to test the Dynasoar, an experimental craft that could leave the atmosphere (the whole mass of air surrounding Earth), orbit Earth, reenter the atmosphere, and land like a conventional airplane.

When it became apparent that the Dynasoar project was destined for cancellation, in 1962—the year American astronaut John Glenn (1921–; see entry) successfully orbited Earth—Armstrong decided to apply to the NASA program. Upon acceptance with the second group of U.S. astronauts, he became America's first civilian astronaut and began training on the Gemini mission in Houston, Texas. Four years later he made his first space flight as a command pilot: On March 16, 1966, Armstrong and his copilot, David Scott (1932–), were launched aboard Gemini 8 from Cape Kennedy (now Cape Canaveral) in Florida. Successfully entering orbit, they flew 105,000 miles (168,945 kilometers) and docked (connected) as planned with an unmanned orbiting spacecraft, the Agena. The docking of two orbiting spacecraft was a historic first.

Armstrong's job was to hook the nose of Gemini 8 onto a docking collar on the Agena. One-half hour after the linkup, however, the two vehicles started spinning out of control. Armstrong thought the Agena was causing the problem, so he disconnected the Gemini 8. But then the Gemini 8 began spinning wildly—one revolution per second—and lost contact with the ground control facility at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston. The ground control crew thought Gemini 8 was lost in space. Armstrong then brought the spacecraft down in the Pacific Ocean, only 1.1 nautical miles (measurement of distance at sea; one nautical mile is equal to 6076 feet or 1852 meters) from the targeted landing point. Armstrong's handling of the near disaster earned him a reputation as a brave, cool pilot.

Known for coolness under pressure

Although Armstrong continued training on Gemini spacecraft, he did not fly another Gemini mission. In January 1969 he was named commander of the Apollo 11 mission, which was to be the first attempt to land a human on the Moon. Training in laboratories that simulated the Moon environment, Armstrong and his fellow astronauts studied Moon maps and practiced walking in their space suits, which were


sturdy enough to resist small meteoroids (a small meteor in orbit around the Sun). Risk could not be completely eliminated, but every possible precaution was taken. Once, during a routine training flight, Armstrong's lunar landing research vehicle went out of control. (A lunar landing research vehicle permits astronauts to practice landing on the Moon.) Armstrong ejected himself and landed by parachute only yards away from the training vehicle, which had crashed in flames. He calmly walked away and made his report, again showing an ability to remain cool under pressure.

On July 16, 1969, Armstrong and pilots Buzz Aldrin (1930–; see entry) and Michael Collins (1930–) blasted off from Cape Kennedy aboard Apollo 11. The spacecraft consisted of three stages, or separate components—the Saturn 5 rocket (the booster that propelled the craft into space), the Eagle lunar module (the vehicle that would land on the Moon), and the Columbia command module (the craft that would remain in orbit during the Moon landing). Armstrong and his crew took with them small sections of the wing and propeller of the plane that aviation pioneers Orville (1871–1948) and Wilbur (1867–1912) Wright flew on their first successful flight in 1903 at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

On July 19, Saturn 5 entered lunar orbit and circled the Moon twice. The next day Armstrong and Aldrin transferred to the Eagle, which would later separate from the Columbia. Armstrong would be the commander, with Aldrin as the copilot, while Collins would pilot the Columbia. After about five hours of tests, the crafts separated successfully and the Eagle entered its own orbit. Within two hours Armstrong and Aldrin began the 300-mile descent toward the Moon. At that point the computer system suddenly became overloaded, but under continuous instructions from the mission control center in Houston, Texas, Armstrong continued the gradual touchdown. The targeted computer-guided landing site was in an area called the Sea of Tranquility. When Armstrong looked out the window, however, he saw a field of boulders looming in front of the Eagle. Realizing he would have to land without computer assistance, he quickly switched to manual control and searched for a new site. He guided the Eagle over the boulders to a smooth landing about 4 miles (6.44 kilometers) away, with only ten seconds of fuel left. At 4:17:40 p.m. EDT on July 20, 1969, people around the world heard Armstrong send an important radio message: "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed."

Walks on the Moon

Seven hours after touchdown, Armstrong and Aldrin opened the Eagle's hatch. Climbing down a nine-step ladder at 10:56 p.m., Armstrong became the first human to set foot


on the Moon. His words, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," were transmitted around the world. (Later, he stated that he had intended to say, "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.") Aldrin joined him shortly thereafter. Armstrong and Aldrin spent nearly twenty-one hours on the Moon. During this time they installed a television camera, conducted scientific experiments, took photographs, and collected rock and soil samples. They left an American flag, a mission patch, and medals commemorating American and Russian space explorers who had died in the line of duty. They also set up a plaque that read: "Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon. We came in peace for all mankind." The astronauts' Moon walk was televised live on Earth, and President Richard M. Nixon (1913–1994; served 1969–74) made a telephone call to them from the White House.

After returning to the Eagle, Armstrong and Aldrin rested for eight hours. Then they launched off the surface of the Moon and, two hours later, docked with the Columbia, in which Collins had been circling the Moon. Armstrong and Aldrin unloaded their equipment onto Columbia and abandoned the Eagle. The Columbia set out for Earth on its thirty-first orbit of the Moon. Sixty hours later, at 12:50 pm EDT on July 24, the spacecraft splashed down in the sea some 950 miles (1,526 kilometers) southwest of Hawaii, only 2.7 miles (4.34 kilometers) from its destination point. The astronauts were picked up by Navy frogmen (divers) from the aircraft carrier Hornet. As the Hornet sailed for Hawaii, Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins remained aboard for eighteen days of quarantine (isolated from others) to control any microorganisms they may have carried from the Moon. From Hawaii the astronauts were flown to Houston, where they received a heroes' welcome. They were also honored in a parade in New York City, and they were greeted enthusiastically when they toured twenty-two foreign countries. They were awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honor.

Gains worldwide fame

Armstrong was regarded as a hero. He addressed a joint session of the U.S. Congress on September 16, 1969, about his adventures on the Moon. In his hometown of Wapakoneta, the local airport and the street where his parents lived were named after him. A Neil Armstrong Museum was also built in the city. The Moon mission brought him numerous other honors, including the Harmon International Aviation Trophy, the Royal Geographic Society's Hubbard Gold Medal, and praise and awards from many nations. He became a Fellow of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, the American Astronautical Society, and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and he earned the Wright Award from the National Aeronautic Association.

Apollo 11 was Armstrong's final space mission. After the Moon voyage he joined the NASA Office of Advanced Research and Technology as deputy associate administrator for aeronautics. One of his main responsibilities was to conduct research into controlling high-performance aircraft by computer. In 1970 he earned a master's degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Southern California. Armstrong left NASA the following year, moving back to Ohio with his family and settling on a dairy farm near the town of Lebanon. From 1971 until 1980 Armstrong was a professor of aeronautical engineering at the University of Cincinnati. He took special interest in the application of space technology to such challenges as improving medical devices and providing data on the environment. In 1978 Armstrong was among the first six astronauts who were awarded the congressional Space Medal of Honor.

Lunar Laser Ranging Experiment

At the end of the twentieth century, scientists were still receiving results from the Lunar Laser Ranging Experiment, which Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin started during the Apollo 11 mission. The experiment consists of four reflectors set in different locations on the surface of the Moon. Armstrong and Aldrin positioned the first reflector, Apollo 14 and Apollo 15 astronauts placed the second and third, and a Russian lander installed the fourth. Resembling flat computer screens, the reflectors are composed of silica cubes attached to tilted aluminum panels. The cubes function as prisms that reflect laser beams sent from optical telescopes at observatories in Texas and France. The beams bounce back from the Moon to Earth within 2.3 to 2.6 seconds. Scientists then multiply laser beam return time by the speed of light to calculate the distance between Earth and the Moon at a particular moment.

The Lunar Laser Ranging Experiment has enabled astrophysicists to study the Moon's orbit and movement. They have discovered, for instance, that the force of gravity has not changed with time. They have also measured the distance—239,000 miles (384,551 kilometers)—from the center of the Moon to the center of Earth, using this data to observe the effects of tides on the interaction between the Moon and Earth. In 1999 Jim Williams (1944–), a lunar ranging researcher at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, caused a stir when he announced that the Moon has a liquid core.

Since leaving NASA, Armstrong has served on the boards of directors of numerous corporations, and he chaired the board of trustees of the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History. While he was on the board of Gates Learjet Corporation, in 1979, he piloted the company's new business jet to five world-altitude records and time-to-climb records for that class of aircraft. In 1979 he also founded a computer systems firm. Armstrong accepted two further government appointments. In 1984 he was named to the National Commission on Space, which two years later completed a report outlining an ambitious future for American space programs. In 1986 Armstrong was appointed deputy chair of the Rogers Commission to investigate the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger (see entry). The commission's work resulted in major changes in NASA's management structure and safety practices.

Reflects on Moon mission

An intensely private man, Armstrong rejected most opportunities to profit from his fame, and he was noted for his reluctance to speak publicly about his achievements. In 2001, however, he agreed to conduct a rare, seven-hour interview with two historians at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Details from the interview were reported a year later in an article in the Chicago Tribune newspaper. During the conversation, the historians noted that other astronauts have said Earth seems very fragile when viewed from space. Armstrong agreed: "And I think everybody shares that observation. And I don't know why you have that impression, but it's so small, it's very colorful… you see an ocean and a gaseous layer, a little bit, just a tiny bit, of atmosphere around it. And, compared with all the other celestial objects—which, in many cases, are much more massive, more terrifying—it looks like it couldn't put up a very good defense against a celestial onslaught."

When asked how he felt about being the first human to walk on the Moon, Armstrong responded with typical modesty. "I was certainly aware," he said, "that this was a culmination of the work of 300,000 to 400,000 people over a decade, and that the nation's hopes and outward appearance largely rested on how the results came out. With those pressures, it seemed the most important thing to do was focus on our job as best we were able to try to allow nothing to distract us from doing the very best job we could." He attributed the low rate of equipment failure during the Moon mission "to the fact that every guy in the project, every guy at the bench building something, every assembler, every inspector, every guy that's setting up the tests, cranking the torque wrench, and so on, is saying, man or woman, 'If anything goes wrong here, it's not going to be my fault because my part is going to be better than I have to make it.'"

For More Information

Books

Armstrong, Neil, Michael Collins, and Edwin Aldrin. The First Lunar Landing: 20th Anniversary. Washington, DC: National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1989.

Armstrong, Neil, Michael Collins, and Malcolm McConnell. First on the Moon. New York: Little, Brown, 1970.

Chaikin, Andrew. A Man on the Moon: One Giant Leap. New York: Time-Life, 1999.

Dunham, Montrew. Neil Armstrong: Young Pilot. New York: Simon & Schuster Children's, 1995.

Periodicals

Drayton, Ken. "My Moon Shot." American Heritage (July 1999): p. 26.

Gaffney, Timothy R. "'The Eagle Has Landed.'" Boys' Life (July 1999): p. 18.

Reardon, Patrick T. "A Quiet Hero Speaks: Neil Armstrong Finally Opens Up—A Little Bit." Chicago Tribune (October 2, 2002).

Web Sites

Lloyd, Robin. "Apollo 11 Experiment Still Returning Results." CNN. July 21, 1999. http://www.cnn.com/TECH/space/9907/21/apollo.experiment/index.html (accessed on June 17, 2004).

"Neil Armstrong." Johnson Space Center, NASA.www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/armstrong-na.html (accessed on July 9, 2004).

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Armstrong, Neil Alden

ARMSTRONG, Neil Alden

(b. 5 August 1930 in Wapakoneta, Ohio), astronaut and commander of Apollo 11 who became the first man to walk on the Moon on 20 July 1969.

Armstrong was the eldest of three sons born to Stephen Armstrong and Viola Engel. The family traveled extensively because Stephen Armstrong was an auditor of county records in Ohio, but settled in Wapakoneta when Armstrong was thirteen. By the age of fourteen, Armstrong was flying from the Wapakoneta Airport (later renamed for him), and by sixteen he had earned his pilot's license. Armstrong graduated from Blume High School in Wapakoneta in 1947, and attended Purdue University in Indiana, where he studied aeronautical engineering. He left college to serve in the Korean War, during which he flew seventy-eight missions and was shot down twice, receiving the Air Medal and two Gold Stars. He completed his B.A. degree in aerospace engineering at Purdue in 1955, and in January 1956 married Janet Shearon, with whom he had two sons.

Also in 1956, Armstrong joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). In this capacity, he served as test pilot for supersonic F-100A, F-100C, F-101, F-104A, X-1B, X-5, F-105, 106, B-47, KC-135, and Paresev jets, and flew X-15s up to 4,000 miles per hour, forty miles high. He was also a pilot for the experimental Dynasoar, a craft designed to orbit Earth and reenter the atmosphere, landing like a plane.

In September 1962 Armstrong was accepted into the second team in the nation's new space program, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and became backup command pilot for the Gemini V mission. On 16 March 1966, Armstrong was the command pilot for the Gemini VIII–Titan mission. With copilot Major David R. Scott, he orbited Earth three times and captured a prear-ranged target, the Agena rocket. Armstrong and Scott were the first to lock onto a craft in space, but a jet thruster malfunctioned after they had collared onto the rocket, and the two vehicles spun out of control for thirty minutes. "With extraordinary piloting skill," a NASA press release later maintained, Armstrong was able to detach Gemini from the rocket and regain pilot control. He and Scott were forced to abort the three-day mission little more than ten hours after liftoff, but they landed safely in the Pacific Ocean.

Most Americans were not privy to the extremely dangerous tasks the astronauts faced as they tried to secure U.S. superiority in space, but the stark reality hit home on 7 January 1967, when Virgil Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee died in a launch pad fire. In May 1968 Armstrong was test-piloting a jet-propelled moon-landing vehicle when he ejected only 200 feet from the ground, parachuting to safety as the vehicle crashed. On 11 and 12 October 1968, the U.S. program rebounded from these disasters and near-disasters with the successful launch of Apollo 7, followed by Apollo 8, Apollo 9, and Apollo 10, each of which accomplished ever more complex tasks, from sophisticated docking procedures to lunar orbits, in an effort to land a man on the Moon.

On 16 July 1969 a Saturn 5 rocket blasted off for a sixty-hour journey to the Moon. Aboard were Armstrong, the commander, lunar module pilot Edwin Aldrin, Jr., and command module pilot Michael Collins. After they were pulled into lunar orbit on 19 July, Armstrong and Aldrin entered their lunar module Eagle while Collins piloted the command module Columbia. On 20 July Armstrong and Aldrin unlocked the Eagle and descended toward the lunar surface. The original landing site was littered with enormous boulders, so Armstrong switched to the semimanual guide system and steered the module to a safer site in the Sea of Tranquility. He had twenty seconds worth of fuel left before an automatic abort would have eliminated the possibility of a landing.

Armstrong was dressed in a space suit that, with its electricity, water, oxygen, and two-way radios, weighed 350 pounds on Earth, but which was less than sixty pounds on the Moon. In this cumbersome suit, Armstrong emerged from the Eagle, slowly descended the ladder, and at 10:56 p.m., stepped onto the Moon's surface. With 600 million people watching and listening, he stated, "That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind." Within the half-hour, Aldrin joined him for a moonwalk that lasted twenty-one hours and thirty-seven minutes. They set up television cameras and planted the U.S. flag on the Moon's surface, signifying to the world that Armstrong's one "small" step put the United States ahead of the Soviet Union in the race for superiority in space. The astronauts took photographs, collected soil and rock samples, and set up a solar wind collector, a seismic instrument, and a laser reflector. With each step, the astronauts seemed to bounce across the Moon's tan and gray, dusty surface, scarred and pitted with craters and boulders. They left a plaque that reads, "Here men from the plant Earth first set foot on the Moon—July 1969 a.d.—We came in peace for all mankind." As Armstrong implied with his first memorable words on the Moon, space exploration is not just the privilege or right of any one nation, but offers an extended sense of meaning for human beings, who living on a small planet, now have the possibility of forming extraterrestrial colonies. On 21 July Armstrong and Alden lifted off the Moon's surface to rendezvous with Collins, and on 22 July the C olumbia blasted out of lunar orbit and headed for Earth. It splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on 24 July at 12:50 p.m., and the Apollo 11 crew were picked up by the USS Hornet. President Richard M. Nixon greeted them, and as the 1960s came to a close, Armstrong and his crew were honored with parades and ceremonies around the United States and the world.

Armstrong went back to school to earn his M.A. degree in aerospace engineering at the University of Southern California in 1970. He worked for NASA until 1971 as deputy associate administrator for aeronautics. He then taught aeronautical engineering at the University of Cincinnati until 1979, and went on to serve as the chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee for the Peace Corps (1971–1973) and chairman of computing technologies for Aviation, Inc. (1982–1992). He was a member of the National Commission on Space (1985 to 1986), vice-chairman of the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident (1986), and chairman of AIL Technologies, Inc. (2000). In addition to the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, Armstrong received numerous honorary degrees and other awards in the United States, as well as seventeen awards from foreign countries. When he landed the Eagle and took those first brave steps on the Moon, not only did Armstrong capture the very best of the spirit of the 1960s, but he widened horizons for all mankind.

Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr., First on the Moon, with Gene Farmer and Dora Jane Hambin (1970), gives an excellent firsthand account of Apollo 11. Armstrong's introduction to Alan Shepard and Deke Slayton, Moon Shot: The Inside Story of American's Race to the Moon (1994), offers his insights into the race to the Moon. Andrew Chaikin, A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts (1994), gives a good account of the Apollo missions.

Jane Frances Amler

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Neil Alden Armstrong

Neil Alden Armstrong

1930-

American Astronaut, Test Pilot, and Engineer

Neil Armstrong enjoyed a distinguished career as a research test pilot before becoming a NASA astronaut in 1962. After leaving NASA he served on two Presidential commissions that helped to define the agency's future. He is best known, however, for leaving the first human footprints on another world.

Armstrong was born on a farm near Wapakoneta, Ohio, on August 5, 1930. In love with flying from boyhood, he wanted to study aeronautical engineering in college. A U. S. Navy scholarship gave him the money he needed, but a call to active duty interrupted his studies at Purdue University. Armstrong flew jet fighters for the navy from 1949 to 1952, flying 78 combat missions from the aircraft carrier Essex during the Korean War. After leaving the service he returned to his studies, receiving a B.S. in aeronautical engineering in 1955.

Now both an engineer and an experienced jet pilot, Armstrong went to work for the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics as an aeronautical research pilot. NACA, the forerunner of NASA, used jet fighters and experimental rocket planes to test new techniques for designing high performance aircraft. The experience Armstrong gained on such flights made him an ideal astronaut candidate. He joined the manned space program in 1962, one of the first two civilians to do so. He commanded the Gemini 8 mission in March 1966 and, on the ground, played supporting roles in four other Gemini missions.

Armstrong's selection as commander of the Apollo 11 mission—the first lunar landing—was not foreordained. It was the result of a complex, unpredictable set of events that shaped, and reshaped, Apollo crew assignments in 1967-69. Once selected, however, Armstrong proved to be an ideal choice. When the planned landing site on the Moon turned out to be strewn with large boulders, Armstrong coolly overrode onboard computers and manually guided the lunar module Eagle to a safer place. He landed it so gently that its shock absorbers barely compressed, with only seconds of fuel to spare. During his two-hour, 14-minute moonwalk on July 20, 1969, Armstrong adapted easily to work on the lunar surface. The data and samples that he and crewmate Buzz Aldrin (1930-) collected were modest by the standards of later missions, but they gave Earth-bound scientists a priceless firsthand glimpse of another world.

The landing of Apollo 11 was more than a triumph of science and engineering: it was a public event. Millions followed its progress on television, eager for the chance to see one of the great events of the century unfold. Neil Armstrong's voice was, for millions who watched live and millions more who have since watched the films, the soundtrack for the landing. Knowing, perhaps, that this would be so, Armstrong rose to the occasion. His carefully low-key announcement of the landing let the event speak for itself: "Houston, Tranquility Base here, the Eagle has landed." His one-line speech after stepping into the lunar dust expressed a soaring sentiment in simple words. "That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind." (The "a" was not heard by listeners due to the lack of sensitivity in Armstrong's microphone.) His running commentary during the moonwalk perfectly echoed the emotions that viewers on Earth felt: pride, exuberance, and endless curiosity.

Armstrong left NASA for business and university teaching in 1971, and he has remained the most private of private citizens since then. He did, however, serve on two presidential commissions in the mid-1980s. The first, the National Commission on Space, developed long-term goals for America's space program in 1984- 85. The second, generally known as the Rogers Commission, investigated the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger in 1986. Neil Armstrong brought to both commissions what he had brought to the space program: razor-sharp intelligence, cool judgement, and an air of absolute dedication.

A. BOWDOIN VAN RIPER

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