Neil Armstrong was born August 5, 1930 on a farm in Wapakoneta, Ohio. But proceeded to move around the state for most of his young life, before his family finally settled back in Wapakoneta in 1944. Read Neil Armstrong's Biography.
It was July 20, 1969 when Neil Armstrong spoke what must be considered the most famous words of the 20th century, "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind". This, of course, was the day that men from Earth first set foot on the Moon. It was the culmination of years of research and development, success and failure, and bitter competition from our feared rivals. And it was the words of a 38 year old Neil Armstrong that echo in the annals of history.
Early Life of Neil Armstrong
Neil Armstrong was born August 5, 1930 on a farm in Wapakoneta, Ohio. But proceeded to move around the state for most of his young life, before his family finally settled back in Wapakoneta in 1944. There Neil held many jobs around town, especially at the local airport as he was always fascinated with aviation. After starting flying lessons at the age of 15, he was awarded a pilots license on his 16th birthday, before he had earned a driver's license.
Naturally interested in aviation, Armstrong decided to pursue a degree in Aeronautical Engineering from Purdue University under the Holloway Plan. This scholarship sent deserving recipients to University for the completion of their bachelors degree before committing to at least three years of Naval service. At the conclusion of their time in the Navy, they would return to school for two more years of advanced study. Armstrong later completed his master's degree in aerospace engineering at the University of Southern California in 1970.
Armstrong was called to Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida in 1949 before he could complete his degree. There he earned his wings at 20 years of age, making him the youngest pilot in his squadron. He then flew 78 combat mission in Korea, earning three medals, including the Korean Service Medal. But Armstrong was sent home before the conclusion of the war and finished his Bachelors degree in 1955.
Testing New Boundaries
After completing his degree at Purdue, Armstrong decided to try his hand as a test pilot. After an initial application to the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) -- the prelude to the creation of NASA -- was turned down he took a post at Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory in Cleveland, Ohio. However, it was less than a year before Armstrong transfered to Edwards Air force Base (AFB) in California to work with the NACA's High Speed Flight Station.
During his tenure at Edwards Armstrong conducted test flights of over 50 types of experimental aircraft, logging 2,450 hours of air time. Among his accomplishments in these aircraft, Armstrong was able to achieve speeds of Mach 5.74 (4,000 mph or 6,615 km/h) and an altitude of 63,198 meters (207,500 feet), but in the X-15 aircraft.
Neil Armstrong, being an engineer by training, had a technical efficiency to his flying that was the envy of most of his colleagues. However, he was criticized by some of the non-engineering pilots, including Chuck Yeager and Pete Knight, that observed that his flying technique was too mechanical. They argued that flying was, at least in part, feel. Something that didn't come naturally to the engineers, and it was this fact that sometimes got them into trouble.
While Neil Armstrong was a comparatively successful test pilot, he was involved in several ariel incidents. One of the most famous events involving Armstrong occurred on May 21, 1962 when he was sent to investigate Delamar Lake as a potential emergency landing site, flying an F-104. After an unsuccessful landing damaged the radio and hydraulic system, Armstrong headed toward Nellis Air Force Base. When attempting to land at Nellis, the tail hook of the plane lowered due to the damaged hydraulic system and caught the arresting wire on the air field. The plane slid out of control down the runway, dragging the anchor chain along with it.
Upon radioing back to Edwards, Milt Thompson was dispatched in a F-104B to retrieve Armstrong. However, Milt had never flown this particular aircraft, and ended up blowing one of the tires during a hard landing. The runway was then closed for the second time that day to clear the landing path of debris. A third aircraft was sent to Nellis, piloted by Bill Dana. But Bill almost landed his T-33 Shooting Star long, prompting Nellis to send the pilots back to Edwards using ground transportation.
Crossing Into Space
In 1957 Armstrong was selected for the ironically named Man In Space Soonest (MISS) program. Then in September of 1963 he was selected as the first American civilian to fly in space. (Russia launched civilian Valentina Tereshkova into space in June of 1963, beating Armstrong to space.)
In 1966 Armstrong flew on the Gemini 8 mission which launched March 16. Serving as Command Pilot, the crew was to complete the first ever docking with another space craft, an unmanned Agena target vehicle. After 6.5 hours in orbit they were able to dock with the craft, but due to complications they were unable to complete what would have been the third ever "extra-vehicular activity" -- now referred to as a space-walk.
Armstrong also served as the CAPCOM -- typically the only person who directly communicates with the astronauts during missions to space -- for Gemini 11. However, it was not until the Apollo program began that Armstrong ventured into space.
The Apollo Program
Neil Armstrong's first tour of service to the Apollo program came as the commander of the back-up crew of the Apollo 8 mission, though he had been originally scheduled to back-up the Apollo 9 mission. (Had he remained as the Apollo 9 back-up commander he would have been slated to Command Apollo 12, not Apollo 11.)
Initially, it was planned that Buzz Aldrin, the Lunar Module Pilot would be the first to set foot on the Moon. However, it was determined that because of the positions of the astronauts in the module, it would require Aldrin to physically crawl over Armstrong to reach the hatch. As such, it was decided that it would be easier for Armstrong to exit the module first upon landing.
Apollo 11 touched down on the surface of the Moon on July 20, 1969, at which point Armstrong declared, "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed." A hugh sigh of relief was said to have been breathed throughout mission control, as it was thought that Armstrong had merely seconds of fuel remaining before the thrusters cut and the lander plummeted to the surface. Armstrong and Aldrin exchanged congratulations before quickly preparing the lander to launch off the surface in case of an emergency.
Man's Greatest Achievement
On July 20, 1969, Armstrong made his way down the ladder from the Lunar Lander and, upon reaching the bottom declared "I'm going to step off the LEM now." As his left boot made contact with the surface he then spoke the words that defined a generation, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
Interestingly, he meant to say "one small step for a man," referring to himself. Otherwise the phrase is actually contrary, since as stated man would imply mankind. Armstrong later was reported as saying that he hoped future quotations would include the "a" parenthetically. However, the phrase is still usually conveyed as he originally spoke it.
About 15 minutes after exiting the module, Aldrin joined him on the surface and they set to investigating the environment on the lunar surface. They also planted the American flag on the surface. But because of a malfunction of the bottom extender of the flag, the flag appeared to be waving. This, of course, would be impossible since there is no air on the Moon. It was supposed to be repaired on a later mission, but because the astronauts liked the way it looked, it was kept in the same condition.
The final task carried out by Neil Armstrong was to leave behind a package of memorial items in remembrance of deceased Soviet cosmonauts Yuri Gagarin and Vladimir Komarov, and Apollo 1 astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee. All told, Armstrong and Aldrin spent 2.5 hours on the lunar surface. Each of the subsequent landings allowed for more and more time on the surface, culminating in 21 hours of extra-vehicular time performed by the Apollo 17 astronauts.
The astronauts then returned to Earth, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean on July 24, 1969. Armstrong was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor bestowed upon civilians, as well as a host of other medals from NASA and other countries.
Neil Armstrong's Life After Space
After a short stint as an administrator with NASA and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Armstrong accepted a teaching position at the University of Cincinnati with the department of Aerospace Engineering. He held this appointment until 1979. Armstrong also served on two investigation panels. The first was after the Apollo 13 incident, while the second came after the Challenger explosion.
Neil Armstrong now lives a life outside the public eye. He stopped signing autographs more than a decade ago when he came to know that people were selling items baring his signature for thousands of dollars. There have also been issues with individuals selling forgeries. Armstrong will occasionally make public comments when asked about NASA and current policy. The most recent statement, in early 2010, was in staunch criticism of the President's plan to cancel the Constellation program.
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