Neil Armstrong


Neil Alden Armstrong (Wapakoneta, Ohio, August 5, 1930 – Cincinnati, August 25, 2012) was an American astronaut, the first man to set foot on an alien body, the Moon. During his lifetime, he was a naval aviator, astronaut, NASA executive, farmer, university professor and business influencer.

Armstrong graduated from Purdue University with a degree in aeronautical engineering, while a special Navy scholarship split his undergraduate studies into two parts, he trained as a flight officer in the Navy for two and a half years, and then saw combat in the Korean War. He flew 121 combat sorties over North Korea in his F9F Panther from aboard the aircraft carrier USS Essex. On one mission, he was lucky to escape with his life when his plane collided with a wire that was being stretched against aircraft. As part of his contract, he was allowed to return to the classroom from the war, where he earned a BSc in aeronautical engineering.

After college, he worked briefly as a flight attendant at NACA”s Lewis Center and then, due to a vacancy, was transferred to the originally proposed Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert, where he was assigned to the NACA

In 1962, he applied for NASA”s astronaut candidate call (the Gemini program was starting up and NASA needed new people to join the Mercury veterans). He was a ninth seed in NASA”s second astronaut selection, becoming a member of the so-called New Nine, and as such, an astronaut candidate. At the end of his varied training, he was first a member of the reserve crew of Gemini V, then came the astronaut baptism of fire, the command designation of Gemini VIII. On the Gemini-8 flight, he was tasked with performing a space rendezvous and then the world”s first inter-spacecraft link-up. However, after the successful completion of this mission, a serious emergency arose due to a failure of the spacecraft, which Armstrong resolved with great spirit on the verge of fainting, albeit at the cost of sacrificing the further objectives of the flight. He later received the designation of reserve commander of Gemini XI.

Moving to the Apollo programme, Armstrong was first given the reserve command of Apollo 8, and a little later he had the honour of being named commander of the most historic mission of all, Apollo 11. In this capacity, he visited the Moon from 16 to 24 July 1969, and landed on 20 July 1969 with his partner Buzz Aldrin in their lunar module Eagle. Armstrong had the privilege of being the first to land on the surface of another celestial body. It was then that he uttered his famous phrase – “A small step for man, but a giant leap for mankind” – and spent two and a half hours on the lunar surface with Aldrin, who later joined him. After a successful moonwalk, the astronauts made a lucky return to Earth.

After landing on the moon, Armstrong moved to a different position within NASA, as Director of Flight Operations, after completing his protocol duties, including the Giant Leap Tour goodwill tour. After less than a year, he left NASA to become a lecturer at the University of Cincinnati. While teaching at the university, he ran a farm in Ohio and held positions in various companies.

He was married twice, first to Janet Elizabeth Shearon in 1956, who bore him three children, Eric, Karen and Mark (Karen died prematurely at the age of two from complications of a brain tumour), and secondly to Carol Held Knight in 1994. In 2012, he was diagnosed with a heart defect, which doctors attempted to resolve with coronary artery bypass surgery, but Armstrong died of complications following the operation on 25 August 2012. After his death, he was mourned by the whole of American society, and the US government held a large-scale memorial service. After the mass, his funeral took place in the Atlantic Ocean, where his ashes were transported by a US warship and then scattered at sea by his family.

Neil Armstrong was born on 5 August 1930 near Wapakoneta, Ohio, the eldest son of Stephen Koenig Armstrong and Viola Louise Engel. He later had two brothers, a sister June and a brother Dean. The family has German, Irish and Scottish roots (the latter branch of the Armstrong name). Armstrong”s father worked as an accountant as a civil servant, and as such was constantly auditing government departments, moving from town to town. The Armstrong family was therefore in a constant state of flux following the father”s errands, visiting sixteen cities in fourteen years. Armstrong”s fascination with aviation also dates from this time. His father often took him to the air shows that were fashionable throughout the United States at the time. According to family legend, Neil first attended an air show at the age of two and was six when he took his first airplane ride in a Ford Trimotor at one such show, in a walk-on flight. He became interested in military aviation when Japan attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor.

Neil Armstrong”s life was defined by his passion for aviation and engineering. Throughout his career, he was driven by his desire to approach the problems he was given from an engineering perspective, and to stay at the forefront of engineering wherever possible. One of the technological “cutting-edge” fields of his time was aeronautics, which later developed into space flight. It was a high-tech frontline of applied engineering that Armstrong sought, and he threw himself almost obsessively into solving problems in the field, and this determination guided him for much of his career.

His university years

The young Armstrong”s life and career were to be dominated by aviation, and his studies took a turn in that direction: in 1947 (at the age of 17) he enrolled in aeronautical engineering at Purdue University. He also applied to and was accepted at the much more prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, but was dissuaded by an uncle, a former MIT student, who said that one did not have to travel all the way to Massachusetts to study aviation (Massachusetts being relatively far geographically from Neil”s native Ohio).

Neil completed school under a special scholarship scheme, the Holloway Plan. The idea was that the student could exchange his tuition fees for military service. The successful candidate would then spend two years at university, followed by two years of flight training, then a year of actual service in the US Navy, and finally return to university to complete a further two-year degree.

So in the first phase of the programme, Armstrong went to Purdue University (a big deal at the time, since only a quarter of Americans graduated from high school and only twenty percent graduated from an institution of higher learning). During this time, Armstrong was mainly concerned that the revolution in aviation had brought such rapid advances in his field that by the time he graduated, there would be no significant flying power left and his knowledge would be obsolete. During the first two years of his studies, Chuck Yeager had broken the speed of sound in the Bell X-1, virtually all the major geographical points had been conquered by air, Wernher von Braun had reached an altitude of 110 kilometres with a V-2 rocket captured by the US Army, the first spacecraft to reach outer space, or a pilot had successfully ejected from an F2H-1 Banshee at 500 knots.

The military draft in 1949 interrupted Neil”s studies, which he resumed in 1952. During this second phase of his studies, his results improved (he eventually achieved an academic average of 4.8 out of a possible 6.0). At university, he became a member of Phi Delta Theta, where he lived in the student residence. To prove his versatility, he wrote and co-directed two musicals (songs adapted from a Walt Disney film and a Gilbert and Sullivan piece, with occasional new lyrics). During this time, he did not forget about flying, as he was president of the Purdue Aero Flying Club and occasionally had the opportunity to fly the club”s Aeronca and Piper planes, which the university held at nearby Aretz Airport in Lafayette. He finally earned a BSc degree in aeronautical engineering in January 1955. Later, in 1970, he also completed an MSc in aeronautical engineering at the University of Southern California (and was awarded honorary doctorates by several universities).

The most important private event of this period for Armstrong was meeting Janet Elizabeth Shearon, his future wife. Their relationship was a relatively strange one, by their own admission not a cohabitation, but Armstrong nevertheless asked her to marry him, and they were married on 28 January 1956 at the Congregational Church in Wilmette. Later, work called Neil to California, causing Janet to drop out of college (where she studied home economics), a decision she never finished (and one she has always regretted).


On 26 January 1949, Armstrong received his contracted call-up to join the US Navy at Pensacola Naval Base and begin training in the 5-49 class (the fifth group of the class of 1949), after interrupting his university studies. On 24 February 1949, he received his first commission (midshipman – the lowest officer rank) and began his flight training. Training began on the North American SNJ training aircraft, during which his instructor was not always entirely satisfied with Neil, but after a check flight on 7 September 1949 he was certified ”fit to fly solo” and flew solo for the first time on 9 September 1949. The training progressed in a staggered sequence from A to L, from basic physical training to aircraft carrier landings. On 2 March 1950, the final phase, the ”L” carrier landings, took place when the USS Caboton (a World War II veteran, straight-deck aircraft carrier) patrolling the Gulf of Mexico completed the mandatory six take-offs and landings. During the take-offs and landings, the landing officer used small discs to indicate to the pilot how to position himself, but when he saw that the pilot would not be able to land, he waved the discs to “wave” the pilot on, i.e. to order the candidate to take off, and the attempt was deemed unsuccessful. Armstrong never received such a “wave” in any of his six attempts.

His next assignment was to Naval Base San Diego, where he was assigned to his first combat unit, Fleet Aircraft Service Squadron (FASRON) 7, and then to VF-51 Squadron on 27 November 1950. He was assigned to an all-jet fighter squadron, where he flew his first solo F9F Panther on 5 January 1951, while on ground training. He was promoted to Ensign on 5 June 1951 and two days later made his first jet carrier landing on the carrier USS Essex. The Essex sailed from California on 28 June 1951 and headed for Korea to participate in the fighting of the Korean War. Halfway to Hawaii, the VF-51 deployed ashore at Barber Point Naval Base, where fighter-bomber training was conducted before the unit was re-deployed back to the carrier. The Essex joined Task Force 77, a force of about 20 ships in Tonsan Bay on 22 August 1951, and two days later entered combat in the Korean theatre of operations. Armstrong also passed through the baptism of fire quickly, escorted by air reconnaissance aircraft. It soon attracted attention that Marshall Beebe, the commander of the Essex Air Corps, regularly asked Armstrong to accompany him.

One of the most important events in Neil Armstrong”s life occurred on 3 September 1951, when he nearly lost his life. On that day, he was on an armed reconnaissance mission over Majon-ni, a settlement west of Vonsan, where he was to reconnoitre and attack a freight depot and a bridge. As part of the attack, he dropped his bombs from a low-altitude position 560 km

Armstrong, as Officer in Charge of the Essex, lived through one of the ship”s biggest disasters, which resulted in more casualties and losses than combat missions. On 16 September, John Keller was returning to the ship after a mid-air collision with another plane, but on landing he made a mistake and his plane crashed into the loaded, armed aircraft parked at the end of the deck. A massive fire broke out, killing seven people, seriously injuring sixteen and burning eight aircraft to ashes or being pushed off the deck by tractors into the sea. In the wake of the disaster, the ship was withdrawn from the fighting and towed back to Yokosuka.

The Essex flew five combat missions with Armstrong on board and Neil flew his last combat mission on 5 March 1952. In total, over the five combat sorties and seven months, he completed 78 sorties and spent 121 hours in the air, while 27 of his comrades died. Because of the type of missions he flew, he did not achieve aerial victories over enemy aircraft, but he did destroy a number of ground targets. He was awarded the Air Medal for his first twenty combat missions and two Gold Stars, the Korean Service Medal and the Combat Medal, the National Defence Service Medal and the United Nations Distinguished Service Medal for the other forty. His service expired on 25 February 1952, but because of problems with other ships, the Essex remained in service for two weeks, then, retaining his rank, he was placed on reserve and transferred to a transport battalion, VR-32. He was discharged from active duty on 23 August 1952, but remained in the reserves and was promoted to sub-lieutenant. As a reservist, he continued to fly missions to maintain his proficiency, first with VF-724 at Naval Base Glenview, Illinois, and later at Los Alamitos Air Force Base, California. He remained in reserve duty until his discharge on 21 October 1960.

Flying pilot

After leaving university, Armstrong came to a crossroads. He had to decide what his options were with a degree in aeronautical engineering. He saw three options: either join the military, take a job with an aircraft company, or go into the world of flight experimentation and get into the cockpit of an aircraft at a government experimental research base. The first option was the least promising, the second would have been more financially rewarding, while the last would have been interesting from an engineering point of view, although much less financially rewarding. Neil chose the latter. He applied for a job at the NACA High-Speed Flight Station, the famous Edwards Air Force Base, then a pilot”s paradise. At the time of his application, there were no vacancies at Edwards, so the application was transferred to another NACA research centre, the Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory in Cleveland, where Armstrong was employed from 1 March 1955. Armstrong had only a few months to work there when a vacancy opened up at Edwards, where Armstrong”s name immediately came up, and the High-Speed Flight Station quickly transferred him to the Mojave Desert.

As a pilot, Armstrong was given a wide variety of tasks in a wide variety of aircraft. For example, he was a project pilot on the famous 100 series of flights in aircraft such as the North American F-100 Super Sabre, McDonnell F-101 Voodoo, Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, Republic F-105 Thunderchief and Convair F-106 Delta Dart. Each member of this series has been fielded by a branch of the US military and has been subject to continuous improvement. Again, the purely aeronautical research aircraft, such as the Bell X-1B, the Douglas D-558-2 Skyrocket and the North American X-15 rocket aircraft, were a different matter. In addition to flying the newly developed aircraft, it has been involved in a number of other support missions, drop tests, aerial refuelling or other flights on Douglas DC-3s, Boeing B-29 Superfortresses, Boeing B-47 Stratojets, Boeing KC-135 Stratotankers, Lockheed T-33 Shooting Stars, North American F-86 Sabres, McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom IIs or Douglas F5D-1 Skylancers. He has flown more than 200 aircraft in his career.

The most interesting and dangerous episodes of his flying career were the air crashes that he always managed to escape unscathed, although there was a good chance he would die in one. His first such adventure was in a B-29 Superfortress, which was being used to drop-test a Douglas D-558-2 Skyrocket experimental aircraft. This consisted of suspending a small rocket engine in the bomb bay under the fuselage of the giant bomber, then lifting the bomber to a service altitude of around 10,000 metres, where the rocket engine was dropped, which fired its own rocket engine in mid-air, continued its climb, completed its test flight, and then both landed independently. On one of these flights, Armstrong was co-pilot of the B-29 alongside Flight Commander Dan Butchart when, at 9,000 metres, the giant aircraft”s number 4 engine shut down and the propeller continued to spin like a wind turbine. Butchart pressed the switch that turns the propeller blades in the direction of forward motion and stops the rotation. This caused the rotation to slow down, but then to speed up again, until the propeller was spinning faster than the others. It was feared that the engine would break down and the propeller rods would fly apart, shattered. The decision was then made to emergency release the Skyrocket (the B-29 could not land under its belly with the experimental aircraft). The moment the rocket engine was released, the propeller housing exploded and the propeller pins flew apart. One destroyed engine three and hit engine two. Butchart and Armstrong were forced to shut down both the damaged engine three and engine one to compensate for the torque of the engines remaining on only one wing. The B-29 was thus forced to descend from an altitude of 9 km in what was essentially a controlled descent with only one engine remaining, flying a giant spiral. The Armstrongs finally made a lucky landing.

On another occasion, on Armstrong”s first take-off in a rocket-powered aircraft, the Bell X-1B, the inadequately designed nose cone closed on landing. Another legendary failure in the X-15 program occurred when, on his sixth flight of the experimental aircraft, Armstrong, testing the MH-86 guidance system (which helped maneuver in the near-vacuum at high altitudes), took the X-15 to 63,000 meters. When it reached its top altitude, it began to descend, but in the process it ”bounced” off the atmosphere like a pebble skimming the water, and inexplicably began to rise again. This completely changed the flight profile, which on a plane like the X-15, which makes the longest phase of the landing without propulsion, quasi-sailing (as the Space Shuttle did later), was quite problematic. Armstrong thus reached Mach 3 speed over the landing site, and to slow it down he had to go much further than planned before returning to the Lake Muroc basin. According to legend, Armstrong flew all the way to Pasadena, Los Angeles, passed over the Rose Bowl stadium, veered off course well south of his intended route, and then barely managed to get back inside the Edwards Lake basin. Finally, completing the longest X-15 flight in both time and distance, he landed just inside the rim of Lake Muroc, almost brushing the yosuwe trees on the southern edge of the dried lake bed. In all, Armstrong flew the experimental top-of-the-range aircraft of the time seven times in the X-15 programme, reaching a maximum speed of Mach 5.74 (6420 km

Armstrong also had other flying incidents during his flying career. He flew once in his life with the legendary Chuck Yeager on 24 April 1962. The flight was in a two-seater T-33, and their mission was to assess whether the dry lake bed at Smith Dry Lake was suitable for an X-15 to land in an emergency. Yeager, according to his own recollection, knew that the previous rains had made it impossible to land there, but Armstrong insisted they try. During the landing attempt, the plane got stuck in the lake bed and had to be rescued. Yeager laughed loudly at Armstrong. From then on, the relationship between the two legendary pilots soured.

Armstrong”s last flight as a flyer was the so-called “Nellis Affair” on 21 May 1962. He was sent to Delamar Dry Lake in Nevada in an F-104 to assess the suitability of the dry lake for emergency landings. During the landing test, he made a mistake, overlooking the altitude and not realizing that the landing gear was only half open. When he attempted to re-launch, one of the control surfaces and the landing gear hatch stuck in the ground, damaging the radio antenna and causing the hydraulics to fail. Armstrong then decided to land at the nearby, well-equipped Nellis base. At the base, he signaled his intention to land by flapping his wings and then landed on the runway. The runway was equipped with an anti-overrun system (with crossed chains) and, as there was no hydraulic pressure, Armstrong”s landing hook was also in a loose condition. The hook got caught in one of the chains and ripped it out. The damaged track took thirty minutes to repair. Armstrong (whose radio had gone dead and disappeared from radar, so the Edwards feared the worst for a long time) telephoned his commander and asked to be sent home. His fellow pilot, Milt Thompson, was sent to pick him up in a two-seat F-104, but Thompson also missed the landing in the strong crosswinds and put his plane down so hard that the main tire blew out and the plane was stuck on the runway, again blocking it for an extended period. Bill Dana then took off for them in a T-33, but his landing was also a long one. Ripping his hair out, Duty Officer Nellis said he wouldn”t ask for any more NASA pilots, but would get them a bus to take them home by road.

Space careers

Neil Armstrong was always very conscious of building a career, looking for an area in his profession that dealt in some way with the most important, most contemporary issues in engineering, that in some way besieged cutting-edge technology. In aviation at the turn of the 1950s-1960s, that area was extra-atmospheric flight. The first such programme, Man in Space Soonest, was launched by the US Air Force and aimed to put a man into space. The project eventually selected nine candidates, including Neil Armstrong (despite the fact that he was a civilian NACA employee). However, ARPA (Advanced Research Project Agency) eventually cancelled the project when President Dwight Eisenhower announced the creation of NASA and merged the experimental programme in all the armed forces and NACA into it, so the Air Force discontinued the programme and NASA continued it as the Mercury programme (with a new astronaut selection process), and Armstrong”s selection also ended in a dead end. It was the same with a similar programme, the X-20 Dyna-Soar, which was launched in November 1960 and was also intended to create a kind of space shuttle (essentially a military space shuttle that Boeing was designing for the USAF). Armstrong was selected to pilot this programme with seven crew members, but the X-20 was also later cancelled.

On September 13, 1962, Deke Slayton, the NASA chief of astronauts (and now flying crews), called Neil on the phone to see if he was still interested in becoming an astronaut candidate. Without thinking, Neil said yes, and NASA announced the list of newly selected astronaut candidates on 17 September 1962, which included Neil Armstrong”s name and that of another civilian pilot, Elliot See (although the name of Neil Armstrong was leaked to the press before the announcement, which was widely rumoured to include the ”first civilian astronaut”). For the New Nine, NASA had different requirements, and the emphasis was no longer on exceptional medical fitness, but on engineering capability.

Being a NASA employee anyway, Armstrong”s status changed little with his election as an astronaut, and for a few weeks he was shuttling between his new job and his old command of Edwards. That”s how, in October, he and Elliot See covered 2,580 kilometres by car, shuttling between different NASA centres from task to task. Armstrong”s first mission as an astronaut was to witness the launch of Wally Schirra”s Sigma-7 at Cape Canaveral on 3 October 1962. After that, the New Nine became completely separated from the Mercury programme. They were nominally assigned to the Gemini programme, but in practice they first had to undergo general training and experience. NASA saw the need to train the candidates, whatever their educational background or training environment, in various courses in astronomical navigation, meteorology, celestial mechanics, but also to take them to various spacecraft and rocket component manufacturing sites at McDonnell, Boeing, North American, etc. They also participated in a number of simulator exercises, as well as general physical training in the centrifuge or exercises to maintain their flying skills on T-33 Talon aircraft.

Armstrong”s first specific crew assignment was on Gemini V on 8 February 1965: he and Elliot See were the reserve crew on the third manned Gemini flight. Armstrong became Gordo Cooper”s command reserve, while See became Pete Conrad”s pilot reserve. The flight was NASA”s first experiment with the space rendezvous, and it was scheduled to last eight days, which required the right equipment, the functionality of that equipment and other experiments. This required two equally trained crews, so the Armstrongs practised everything. However, NASA”s inexperience also put obstacles in the way: the crews of Gemini-3, Gemini IV and Gemini V, six pairs of astronauts in total, practised almost simultaneously on the single spacecraft simulator, which led to many collisions, and the astronauts on subsequent flights were pushed back in the schedules (especially the second-tier backup crews). All this said, the astronauts completed a successful training programme which finally allowed Gemini V to be launched as originally planned on 21 August 1965, and they successfully completed the assigned tasks, apart from the fuel cell failure and the fact that almost everything had to be redesigned as a result, but they also completed the main task as planned with a so-called ”phantom rendezvous” (i.e. a rendezvous without a target).

In addition to training the reserve crew of Gemini V, Armstrong also served as the support crew for Gemini-3 until its launch.

By the time of Gemini VIII, a crew rotation had been established whereby crews were given a reserve designation, then missed two flights and became the primary, flying crew on the third. Based on this rotation, the reserve crew of Gemini V was the primary crew designation for Gemini VIII, but Deke Slayton changed his system a bit. On 20 September 1965, he nominated Neil Armstrong as commander, but he did not nominate Elliot See as his pilot, but Dave Scott. See instead was given the command designation of Gemini IX. Thus, members of the New Nine were given command of the Gemini flights, while the pilots were selected from the next group of astronauts, the third in a series of astronaut selections. Armstrong and Scott”s back-ups were Pete Conrad and Dick Gordon on Gemini-8, which was given the primary mission of the first space link-up in space history. Armstrong also became the first US civilian astronaut – the world”s first civilian astronaut had already been won by astronaut Valentyina Tyereskova on Vostok-6. The nomination of Armstrong and See brought another important change to the astronaut nomination system: Buzz Aldrin was then promoted to the rotation, but he was given a reserve nomination that did not end with a third, real flight. But when Elliot See tragically died in a plane crash – along with Charles Bassett – the nominations moved up a notch and Aldrin was given a real flight. Without it, he would never have been Armstrong”s partner on the subsequent first moon landing.

Gemini VIII was launched from Cape Canaveral on 16 March 1966. The flight planners had set the crew a complex task: the Armstrongs were to rendezvous with a pre-launched Agena target rocket, then rendezvous with it, and then Dave Scott was to perform a spacewalk (the second in the US, the third in the world). On launch day, at 10:00:00, Agena was launched first, followed at 11:41:02 by Gemini VIII, and the Armstrongs were scheduled to rendezvous with the target rocket within four orbits, for which their trajectory was designed so that, due to the celestial mechanical paradox (the lower orbiting spacecraft orbits faster and therefore “catches up” with the higher orbiting one), Gemini would almost automatically catch up with Agena during the first phase of the flight. The rendezvous was successfully completed by the astronauts, and the docking was soon reported as a success. But then, almost immediately, something went wrong and their spacecraft began a seemingly unstoppable spin. The situation deteriorated to the point where the astronauts were threatened with unconsciousness and even death. Armstrong then decided to switch off the two independent steering systems of the spacecraft, the one intended for the orbital stage, and activate the one that could only be used for re-entry into the atmosphere. This stopped the spacecraft from spinning, thereby avoiding immediate danger to life, but the rules required them to land immediately, foregoing any further task. So finally, 10 hours into the flight, halfway through their task, Armstrong and Scott landed.

After the landing, Armstrong (and Scott) felt very uncomfortable about the unfinished business and the early return home. To add to their bad mood, some people in the Astronaut Office criticised their actions, theorising how they could have got out of the critical situation while keeping the instruments usable and completing all the objectives. However, these criticisms were dismissed by the NASA managers responsible, headed by the head of control, Chris Kraft, who said that the whole control itself could not have come up with a better solution and that the management itself was to blame, because they had misinterpreted the emergency situation on the spacecraft, and there was no emergency protocol, and that misinterpretation led to wrong training principles, and the Armstrongs did exactly what they were trained to do.

Two days after the semi-successful landing of Gemini VIII, Deke Slayton announced the crews for the last Gemini flights. This named Pete Conrad as commander of Gemini XI, Dick Gordon as pilot, Neil Armstrong as backup commander and Bill Anders as backup pilot. Armstrong was thus given one last nomination in the Gemini programme. However, this was a ”dead-end” nomination, according to the crew rotation, which was not followed three years later by Gemini XIV, where he could have been back in the first crew. Rather, Slayton valued the experience of the two full training sessions in Armstrong that he had previously acquired and assigned him to Conrad”s crew on that basis. It also gave him the opportunity to learn as much as possible under the mentorship of the inexperienced Anders Armstrong.

Following the landing of Gemini XI in October 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson sent the primary and reserve crews on a 24-day goodwill trip to 14 cities in 11 countries, accompanied by George Low, then Deputy Director of the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, to promote the cause of space exploration. Throughout the trip, the astronauts were greeted with an outpouring of enthusiasm, which, Low recalls, Armstrong handled with great professionalism, further boosting his popularity. Later, his professionalism and ability to handle the enthusiastic crowds also played a role in his selection of the first astronaut to walk on the Moon.

After returning from the tour, Armstrong began his duties in the Apollo programme. Whatever Armstrong”s fate would have been according to the original Apollo schedule, the Apollo 1 fire disaster of 28 January 1967 completely changed it. On that day, Armstrong was given a very different, more protocol-oriented assignment: he travelled with Cooper, Gordon, Lovell and Carpenter to the United Nations General Assembly to attend the signing of the Outer Space Treaty. After the convention, they returned to their hotel to hear the news of the deaths of Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee. The Apollo 1 investigation then put a halt to almost all meaningful activities for the astronauts on the moon landing.

On April 5, 1967, the Apollo 1 fire investigation report was made public, and on the same day, Deke Slayton held a meeting in the presence of 17 astronauts to present the new direction for the Apollo programme, the planned flights and the crews assigned to them. It was in this room that Slayton uttered the legendary phrase: “Gentlemen. The first man to land on the Moon is sitting in this room… And he is looking at me”. As part of the briefing, Slayton mentioned Armstrong”s name in the command post of the Apollo 9 reserve crew, which at the time meant the launch of the command spacecraft and the lunar module into orbit around the Earth.

Armstrong started training as the backup commander of Apollo 9, but NASA changed its mind along the way and he ended up as the backup commander of Apollo 8. Slayton announced the full Apollo 9 reserve crew on 20 November 1967: the already named Armstrong as commander was joined by the Gemini XII pair of Jim Lovell as command module pilot and Buzz Aldrin as lunar module pilot. The delay in the development of the lunar module, but especially the Russian Zond experiments, gave the impression that the rival Soviet Union might once again be ahead in its conquest of the Moon, NASA decided, to swap Apollo 9 (a lunar module in orbit around the Earth) and Apollo 8 (a spacecraft sent to extreme altitudes to test the heat shield), the latter being given a radically new mission, to go to the Moon on the second flight of the programme. The appointed crew of Apollo 9, under the command of Jim McDivitt, insisted that they would rather stay on the mission and transfer from ”-8 to ”-9. So the original crew of Apollo 9 also migrated from ”9” forward to ”8”. Slayton didn”t want a major shuffle, the backups kept up with the primary crew. This was further complicated by the illness of Michael Collins. The command pilot of Apollo 8”s flight crew was diagnosed with a bone spur on his spine that required surgery. As a result, Collins was dropped from the number one crew and replaced by reserve Jim Lovell. And when Collins recovered, he could only return to the reserves. This is how the trio of Neil Armstrong – Buzz Aldrin – Mike Collins, the reserve crew of Apollo 8, was finally formed.

Apollo 8 then made history between 21 and 27 December 1968, with its astronauts successfully reaching the Moon on Christmas Day to orbit it and observe it for ten orbits. The United States thus reaped the glory of being the first to reach the Moon and successfully prepare for a landing on the lunar surface. Apart from minor errors, the Apollo 8 astronauts performed a flawless flight, which in itself gave the United States an undisputed lead in space performance.

In addition to practicing for specific flights, the flight simulation was a very important part of the programme. To this end, NASA has developed real flying instruments in addition to simulators built to mimic the realistic cockpits of spacecraft. One such vehicle was the LLRV (Lunar Landing Research Vehicle) built by Bell Aircraft, and later the LLTV (Lunar Landing Training Vehicle) developed from it, which gave future Apollo commanders the experience of flying over the lunar surface in the lunar module. The device was known in astronaut jargon as a ”flying bed frame”, because the LLTV was a fully functional device: a frame of tubes built around a single central lifting engine, which, like lunar gravity, was responsible for the gravity of the gravity 5

On May 6, 1968, Armstrong was on his way to train with the device when the main engine of the plane failed at 30 meters altitude. The instruments went haywire and the plane began to bank sideways. Armstrong made a split-second decision and ejected from the structure, which crashed, exploded and burned to ashes a few seconds later, with the astronaut descending a little further on the parachute of the ejection seat. Despite the incident, Armstrong insisted that without the LLRV, the lunar landing could not have taken place, so valuable was the experience gained by the commanders in driving the lunar module.

The moon landing was undeniably the highlight and most influential event of Neil Armstrong”s life. Armstrong”s selection was both an obvious choice, a good choice, and a series of coincidences. It was a series of coincidences in which Deke Slayton spent a long time looking for the right candidate, because the flight was so important that the astronauts” boss was willing to break up the pre-established and well-established rotation system for him. But his candidates kept falling for different ones. Gus Grissom died, and then Wally Schirra announced after Apollo 7 that he was stepping down and would not fly again. So did Frank Borman and Jim McDivitt. After that Slayton went back to his system. The next crew in line for Apollo 11 were the Apollo 8 reserves Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins. NASA management immediately discovered in Armstrong all the qualities they needed for the first man to walk on the Moon.

Deke Slayton called Armstrong aside on 23 December 1968, during the Apollo 8 flight, and told him that he intended to nominate him as commander of the next Apollo 11 flight (it was clear by then that Apollo 11 would be NASA”s first attempt to land on the moon). In that conversation, Deke Slayton offered Armstrong the chance to replace the difficult-to-handle Aldrin with Jim Lovell if the candidate commander wished (a conversation that only came to light in 2005, during an interview for Armstrong”s biography). Armstrong, however, did not take the opportunity, considered himself capable of handling Aldrin, and in his opinion Lovell deserved to be in command of his own flight, Apollo 14. The official announcement of the crew was made to the public on 9 January 1969.

As in previous missions, the Command Spacecraft and Lunar Module simulators were widely used to practice flight operations. During these exercises, planned operations (mainly docking) were practised to a proficiency level, and many contingency procedures were tested by astronauts and command. In the latter case, the simulator operators would unknowingly break some flight parameter – simulating an instrument malfunction or possibly abnormal spacecraft operation – and the astronauts would have to find the right solution to these unexpected situations. Unlike previous missions, Armstrong and Aldrin were given plenty of opportunities to practice lunar landings in the simulator, which also created friction between crew members. The most notable of these was the incident where they ”crashed” following an error signal, apparently due to Armstrong”s mistake. Aldrin, who was much more intolerant of failure, blamed this on the commander, who in turn regarded the exercises as a learning experience and, in fact, crashed deliberately, wondering how much he could rely on the assistance of the control centre in a live situation, from which he learned that he could not, as the fact of the virtual crash showed.

Diverse field exercises were also a new feature of the training. One of these was the practice of lunar operations in a suitcase, during which astronauts had to simulate the operations to be carried out in a sand-covered area in a huge NASA hangar with a mock-up of a lunar module and a training example of the equipment to be sent up. The other simulation area was a movement training exercise, to acclimatise the astronauts to the Moon”s low-gravity environment. To do this, astronauts in space suits were suspended by elastic bands so that the force of gravity was felt as one-sixth of the real gravity. These exercises were mostly unsuccessful, because the suspension straps and springs greatly restricted movement and showed that working on the lunar surface would be far from easy. There was very little time for such exercises in the over-stretched preparation plan, but they were to familiarise the astronauts with the types of rocks and their occurrence in real conditions, back here on Earth. So NASA organised desert exercises, in which the Armstrongs took part. Unfortunately, in some cases, excessive interest from the press prevented the exercises from taking place, when, on learning of such a deployment, they turned up en masse. Helicopters were used to monitor the work below, preventing calm learning or even communication between the astronauts and the teacher.

Part of the preparations involved choosing the radio call signs – which are the same as the names of the command ship and the lunar module – and designing the insignia, which were traditionally the prerogative of the crew. During the exercises, the Armstrong team chose the names Iceman and Coalmine, but when the official designation was made, they replaced the somewhat frivolous names with ones that fit the historic mission. Thus, the command ship was named Columbia, inspired primarily by associations with the plot of Jules Verne”s novels Journey to the Moon and Journey around the Moon and the Columbiad cannon. But the word also had other meanings, such as the legendary 18th-century American ship of the same name, which explored the unknown seas of the Northwest. The name could also refer to the United States itself, as Columbia is also the feminine poetic name for America in the culture. And the Lunar Module was christened Eagle (or rather, after the separation, communicated with its passengers by this call sign), a clear patriotic reference to America, whose heraldic bird is the white-headed eagle.

It was also up to the astronauts to design a crew emblem. The crew designed the most minimalist logo of the whole programme, leaving out all the frills – even their own names – to clearly symbolise the message: the United States has come to the Moon in peace on behalf of the people of Earth. In the symbol scheme, a bald eagle soars over a cratered lunar landscape, clutching an olive branch in its talons as a sign of peace, with the Earth and the words Apollo 11 in the background.

A highly publicised debate has preceded the decision on which astronaut should land on the Moon first, and thus become the first man on the Moon. Buzz Aldrin was the main force behind the debate. Among the pros and cons was the Gemini tradition that the co-pilot always got out of the spacecraft during a spacewalk. At the same time, there was a naval tradition that favoured the senior officer, the commander”s authority in such cases. Aldrin”s fierce battle to be the first to disembark provoked fierce opposition within NASA, which NASA eventually settled on the official reasoning that the lunar module design (the cabin door leading out to the right would be expensive and time-consuming to redesign) meant that to allow him to disembark would require a change of space in the spacecraft, which there was no physical space for. Instead, however, later NASA executives” recollections (e.g. Chris Kraft”s memoir) said that Armstrong”s personality was much closer to what NASA expected from a man associated with such a historic step than Aldrin”s, so they wanted Armstrong, and created the bogus technical explanation just to avoid hurting Aldrin.

Apollo-11 lifted off from Cape Canaveral 39A on 16 July 1969 at 9:32:00 (13:32:00 UTC) to conquer the Moon. This took place after a lengthy preparation of the rocket (the instruments and switches were set by Fred Haise, a member of the backup crew, by the time the crew arrived at the launch pad), the crew attended the now traditional ”astronaut breakfast”, then suited up and were driven by van the 5 km distance between the crew building and the launch pad. Meanwhile, the largest crowd of spectators in history had gathered on the public beaches surrounding Cape Canaveral, Cocoa Beach on the banks of the Banana River. Among them were Janet Armstrong and her two sons, Eric and Mark, who watched the start from a yacht moored in the Banana River. Armstrong commanded the spacecraft from the left command and engineering seat, and telemetry data showed he was quite excited, with a heart rate of 110 during the launch recorded by biomed sensors attached to his body.

The take-off was a lasting experience for the commander and his two companions, much more intense than the one they had experienced on the Gemini. The most fundamental memory was the noise, which they experienced mainly in the initial phase of take-off, because for a while they heard not only the sound of the engines directly, but also the sound waves reflected from the ground, and the noise was with them until the rocket reached the speed of sound, when the noise simply “left them behind”. Apollo-11 was scheduled to orbit the Earth, where it underwent systems checks and then control gave the go-ahead for lunar burn. Then, and after ignition, they were free to float in a cabin that was spacious compared to the Gemini, and Armstrong was pleased to find that neither he nor his crewmates were affected by any of the symptoms of motion sickness in space that had affected other astronauts so sensitively. Moreover, for the first time they had the experience of looking down on Earth as a planet.

The journey there was relatively uneventful. Minor glitches occurred, for example the equipment to neutralise the dissolved hydrogen gas in the water broke down, and a lot of gas got into their drinking water and food, which they also had to prepare with water from their dried chow. This caused the astronauts to feel a constant sense of discomfort from the gas they had inhaled. They worked in shifts, slept, and gave TV broadcasts. The world was following their every move (in the Soviet Union, an article in Pravda called Neil the ”spaceflight tsar”).

After three days of orbital corrections, the spacecraft arrived at the Moon, where Armstrong and Aldrin climbed into the lunar module, which had been flying with them in stand-by mode, for the 10th orbit. The pre-landing task was to wake up the lunar module, get all its components ready for flight, and put themselves into their space suits (they had been flying in light coveralls for the whole trip), from which point they were not allowed to take them off until they returned from the surface. The real landing began in orbit 13: the lunar module was separated from the mother spacecraft, and Collins inspected it from the outside to check for any abnormalities. In orbit 14, they were given clearance to land and began their descent with a brake application. The small spacecraft was controlled by Armstrong throughout the landing (or rather the computer, Armstrong was just checking that everything was going OK), while Aldrin was a kind of systems engineer, who on the one hand would try to troubleshoot any malfunction, on the other hand, since it would have been too demanding for Armstrong to divide his attention between the instruments and other parameters of the flight, the lunar module pilot was a kind of “living dashboard”, reading out the most important flight data aloud to the commander from the dashboard.

The landing did not go smoothly. Due to a slight inaccuracy in the separation from the command spacecraft, the spacecraft flew on a slightly different trajectory, two seconds off schedule, which meant a kilometre deviation from the calculated landing point due to the enormous speed. Therefore, in the final phase of the landing, the lunar module did not land on the expected flat terrain, but on a landscape of huge rocks the size of a car, which did not seem suitable for landing, and the lunar module could have overturned on some of the rocks. Seeing the emergency, Armstrong decided to switch from autopilot (blindly driving the lunar module towards the rocks) to manual control and manoeuvre their spacecraft over the dangerous terrain (computer control was necessary because it could steer the craft with much more precision and much less fuel than an astronaut could with his hands). Manual control, however, required much more fuel, which the astronauts were not in a position to do. During descent, control warned them of exceeding the 60-second limit (i.e. 60 seconds of fuel left in the tanks) and then the 30-second limit. Armstrong”s manoeuvres were ultimately successful.

The landing finally took place on 20 July 1969 at 20:17:40 UTC. Armstrong descended slowly towards the lunar surface, which was indicated by three 170 cm (6.5 ft) downward-hanging sensor rods, which Aldrin indicated the proximity of the ground by shouting “Contact light!” Armstrong made his only minor mistake during the landing: he should have stopped the engine on Aldrin”s signal to prevent the gas jet from getting trapped under the engine bell and blowing it up, but the commander forgot to do this and descended to the ground (the final one and a half metres was planned to be free-fall). He signaled to himself, “Engine stop”, and the lunar landing was accomplished, they were down on the lunar surface. There was a ten-second pause (the astronauts were busy with the post-landing link-ups) when the somewhat impatient CapCom came on: “We got you down, Eagle”. Then Armstrong”s proud reply made the fact of landing clear to the world:

Armstrong later always considered the landing to be the bigger event, rather than the landing on the Moon”s surface. In a later interview, he said, “I always knew we had a good chance of getting home, but I only gave it a half chance of landing…”. In any case, it was the landing as an engineering feat (in an experimental aircraft that had been flown only three times, and he had to pilot the very first flight that achieved all the flight”s objectives) that was the more interesting and challenging task.

After the landing, the operational plan was not yet for a lunar landing, but to prepare the spacecraft for take-off (this was a safety measure, as it was considered safer, due to the many unknown factors, to allow astronauts to go home immediately in an unexpected situation, rather than risk getting out and not being able to come home). When they were done, the operational plan called for a rest and sleep period, but the commander suggested that the next moonwalk and rest period be swapped, bringing forward the mission”s main part. It later emerged that NASA had only built in the rest period as a “fall-back” so that in the event of any difficulties, it would not have to say that the moonwalk had been “later than planned”. Besides, if the moon walk had been brought forward, it would have taken place right in the prime time slot of US TV networks, helping publicity. NASA gave the go-ahead to bring forward the lunar surface activity.

First, as per protocol, Neil Armstrong climbed out of the spacecraft, climbed down the ladder mounted on the foot of the lunar module, and then stopped in the massive landing pad of the lunar module. At first, he just poked the surface soil with the toe of his boot and reported that he had found some very fine dust. Then he announced, “And now I”m stepping off the foot of the lunar module,” and took his first, historic step. At the same time he uttered his equally historic sentence:

There was later a knife-edge debate in the English-speaking world as to whether Armstrong said the “a” sound in “a man” or omitted it, making it grammatically incorrect in one of the world”s most historic statements, but to this day there is no end to the debate.

Armstrong first opened the lunar module”s storage compartment, the door of which was opened by pulling a bowden. A camera was mounted on the door, which from then on broadcast the lunar surface activity, albeit in rather poor quality. Armstrong”s first task as an explorer on the lunar surface was to collect a so-called “safety sample”. He had to collect a small bag of rocks and lunar dust at the first opportunity, so that if he had to leave the lunar surface prematurely for any reason, a sample of the Moon”s rocks would be available. Armstrong used a long-handled shovel to bag up a small amount of sample, which he put in a special pocket in his spacesuit. During operations, he found that the movement was easier than expected. After about 15 minutes, Buzz Aldrin followed him to the lunar surface. Once both astronauts were on the surface, some symbolic activities took place. First, the American flag was raised (this was not a territorial occupation, just a symbolic sign of achievement by the US and the astronauts, as with the climbers), which was met with some difficulty due to the resistance of the ground. The operation had already been broadcast by a TV camera, which had previously been moved one foot away from the lunar module”s cargo door. Then some souvenirs were placed on the lunar surface: a message from 73 states in miniature letters on a silicon disk in a small white pouch, a golden olive branch as a symbol of peace, the Apollo 1 and Apollo 11 expedition emblems and some coins. The symbolic activities ended with the unveiling of a plaque. On the front leg of the lunar module, between the rungs of the ladder, a small plaque was carried, from which the astronauts had only to remove a cover plate to reveal the inscription: ”Here man first set foot on the Moon from planet Earth. We come in peace on behalf of all mankind.”

And the astronauts were getting ready to start their geological work when, apparently spontaneously, someone wanted to speak to them on the phone: the President of the United States, Richard Nixon. With the presidential phone call, the symbolic activities were over and the uninterrupted geological research work could begin. To do this, the astronauts split up, with Armstrong taking samples and photographs and Aldrin setting up and operating the EASEP instruments.

Armstrong had already taken a sample, a so-called bulk sample, of the lunar module”s environment.He put 22 or 23 shovels of mixed material (dust and rocks) into a vacuum-sealed metal container, virtually indiscriminately. Interestingly, this activity alone took longer than planned, as everything on the Moon usually does. After the presidential telephone, more detailed sampling could follow, the so-called documented sampling. The documentation was a two-way process: on the one hand, the rock to be sampled had to be photographed before it was picked up and placed in a numbered bag, and on the other hand, the sample had to be described verbally to the control (of course with the bag number, so that the verbal description and the sample could be matched on Earth). However, as time became increasingly short – the constant lack of time became a common experience of lunar work and a warning for subsequent missions – documented sampling was not an appropriate method, and was replaced by collection sampling. Armstrong collected rocks from various sites within 10-15 metres of the Eagle, virtually at random, and placed them in numbered bags. The sampling tasks also included two deep samples. This involved driving a tube into the ground and then pulling it out, leaving a cross-section of the topsoil layers inside the tube. The hard rock that had been an obstacle to the deployment of the flag and solar windmeter proved to be a further obstacle, and Armstrong had to hammer the rod into the ground. Both samples were taken from the vicinity of the solar wind meter and took over 6 minutes each to collect. Another task for the commander was to take photographs. This is the main reason why only one photograph of Armstrong was taken on the lunar surface, and all the photographs are of Aldrin, as the commander was on the other side of the camera most of the time. In addition to rock sampling, stereo close-ups and panoramic photographs of the landing site had to be taken. In total, five panoramas were taken from five different angles. One of these was a special one, where Armstrong deviated from the plan and targeted a more distant crater, the largest depression in the landing area, the 30-metre diameter Little West crater. The commander made the 120-metre journey on foot, about 3-4 km

After the sampling and instrument set-up, taking into account the supplies and the astronauts” consumption of oxygen and coolant, and after a 15-minute extension based on better-than-expected consumption data, it was time for the return flight. After 2 hours 36 minutes and 40 seconds, the astronauts closed the door, ending the world”s first moonwalk.

When the lunar walk was over, Armstrong and Aldrin climbed back into the Lunar Module cabin. In their shapeless spacesuits and backpacks, they accidentally broke a switch in the ascent engine”s start switch during the re-entry. They later replaced it with a pen. After the boarding and the follow-up operations outside the spacecraft (sealing, packing, etc.), the previously postponed rest period could follow. However, this proved to be rather futile, as none of the astronauts was able to sleep, as neither the spacesuit, nor the body position, nor the temperature of the curtained cabin, which was inadvertently deprived of heating, was conducive to this activity. After the rest period, the second part of the late President Kennedy”s call to “get them out of there and home safe”, i.e. to go home, was over. In this, the astronauts no longer played an active role, they merely pressed a certain broken button on which the automatic system started the launch sequence, the Eagle”s ascent stage had hitherto been fully automatic and had flown the astronauts into orbit around the Moon, where Mike Collins arrived with Columbia, which had collided with the lunar module, which had been playing a passive role.

At the start of the launch sequence, Armstrong and Aldrin saw the take-off engine tear the foil covering the landing gear to shreds and blow it to smithereens, blow the flag, and rise higher and higher into the pitch-black sky in a very quiet, silent lift.

After docking, the Armstrongs moved the samples and everything else they wanted to bring home. Then they disconnected the lunar module. In a final experiment, they left all its systems on and watched how the spacecraft, which was otherwise short of supplies, especially cooling water, behaved and how long it could be kept running (this experience was later used in the Apollo 13 accident). The moment to leave lunar orbit was soon upon us, and the astronauts were about to embark on an uneventful three-day journey home. Before landing on the ground, the three astronauts thanked in their own way all those who had made their journey possible, the three of them representing the tip of the iceberg. Apollo 11 finally splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 16:50:35 UTC on 24 July 1969. The USS Hornet was waiting on the scene to take the trio on board, who were now dressed in protective suits because of quarantine rules. This was the end of one of mankind”s greatest enterprises. (Quarantine was necessary because, for space travellers visiting the lunar surface for the first time, there was a theoretical possibility that some unknown life form might be living up there, especially at the bacterial level, and that some kind of infection could not be ruled out; isolation was intended to prevent the transmission of this.)

Immediately after the quarantine, the astronauts first visited America”s major cities (in New York, they were greeted by the traditional “serpentine parade” in Heroes” Canyon), then embarked on a 37-day, 23-country journey, the so-called Giant Leap Tour, in Richard Nixon”s special aircraft, a VC-137B (better known as Air Force One). In an example of the almost hysterical interest in the astronauts, they visited Wapakotena, Neil”s hometown, where the town of 7000 people was overrun with visitors, far outnumbering the population, with petrol stations running out of fuel, temporary accommodation had to be set up in the cinema, etc. Armstrong then went on a tour organised by the USO as a special guest of Bob Hope to visit US soldiers stationed abroad. Later, on his last assignment while still with NASA in 1970, Armstrong travelled to the Soviet Union to attend the 13th Congress of the International Space Exploration Council, first visiting Leningrad and then travelling from there to Moscow. There, he was the first Westerner to fly in the Tu-144 supersonic airliner and then visited Star City, which he found “very Victorian”. At the end of the day, he was able to watch the Soyuz-9 launch on video, with commentary by Valentyina Tyereskova (interestingly, Tyereskova”s husband, Andriyan Nikolayev, was on board the Soyuz-9).

Restraint is the term most often used to describe Armstrong”s life after the Apollo programme. Armstrong was rarely available for an interview, especially a television appearance, and more often declined invitations than said yes. He fought a constant war against becoming a ”celebrity”. On several occasions, he prevented anyone from profiting from his name or from something connected with it. Despite his reticence, however, he was quite active, often attending lectures (in which he always tried to show off his engineering credentials, to take an engineering approach to the subject), although he was always careful to ensure that his appearances were always for the public good and that no one profited from them. He was a member of several organisations. He has also appeared in TV commercials as part of his business activities. An important chapter in his life was the investigation of accidents and tragedies within NASA”s Human Space Flight Directorate.


After the return from the Moon and the media hype that followed, both Neil and NASA had the same idea of where he could go next, but with different motivations behind NASA and his own vision. His own was simpler: there was no way up from here for the foreseeable future, but something had to be done, and Neil intended it to have something to do with flight and engineering. But NASA thought that – unlike Gagarin, for example, who was once again allowed close to the dangerous world of live flight – America needed a living national hero, and so Neil could only be given a job that did not involve further flights. So in Washington they thought it best for Armstrong to return to the world of aeronautics and offered him the post of Deputy Director of the Aeronautics Section within NASA. Neil considered his options (the other alternative being somewhere in the competitive aerospace industry) and, although he was not particularly keen on the Washington position, he decided to accept the opportunity offered by NASA.

From 1 June 1970, Neil Armstrong was responsible for aeronautical research and development within NASA. During this period, Armstrong”s greatest contribution to aviation was the launch of the development of the fly-by-wire system. The idea was to replace the previous control principle of moving the various control surfaces of the aircraft by the pilot”s own muscle power through various wires and mechanisms, with the revolutionary idea of a handful of engineers that the pilot”s connection should not be direct and that the pilot should be only one point in the system providing inputs, alongside other, typically computer-based, interventions. Within NASA, the new director was approached by a group of engineers for support to create an analogue fly-by-wire system (in which only the pilot”s movements would be transmitted electronically), but Neil encouraged them to think more revolutionary and to consider developing a digital system. The digital system already used a computer. Armstrong questioned the engineers as to why they had decided to develop a ”dumb” system when they could develop a ”smart” one, and they replied that they had not thought of incorporating a computer, and moreover, they did not know of any computer used in aviation. Neil Armstrong replied: ”…I myself have flown one from the Earth to the Moon and back” (referring to the computer in the command module and the lunar module). From this idea grew NASA”s experimental programme, which ran from 1972-1976 and was tested on an F-8 Crusader fighter aircraft. Today, all modern fighter and passenger aircraft fly fly-by-wire, a system pioneered by Neil Armstrong.

Armstrong”s tenure as Director was relatively short: he left NASA on 31 August 1971 to teach at the University of Cincinnati.

University education

Perhaps the biggest change in Armstrong”s life was when he left NASA. He received many job offers, more and more lucrative, more and more lucrative, but the opportunity offered by the University of Cincinnati was the one that grabbed him. Research opportunities at NASA were dwindling, and the Nixon administration, groaning under the strain of the Vietnam War, was pushing to cut back development for reasons of austerity. Neil”s immediate field, for example, also suffered from the cutbacks, with the US Senate voting on 24 May 1971 to cut off funding for the SST, the US supersonic passenger transport. The deteriorating outlook led Armstrong to consider an offer from Walter C. Langsamm, the rector of the University of Cincinnati. The rector offered Armstrong a full-time professorship and a free hand in teaching.

Armstrong began teaching aeronautical engineering, aircraft design and experimental flight mechanics at his new post in the autumn of 1971. In the eyes of his students, Armstrong was regarded as a good adviser and a tough examiner, usually addressed as “Professor Armstrong”. He recalls that he only had occasional problems with the University”s system of rules, which he described as ”Byzantine”, but that he was generally well integrated into his new environment. Eventually, he was part of the University of Cincinnati until 1980 (January 1, 1980, to be precise), when the school planned to introduce new rules, and the prospective changes exceeded Armstrong”s tolerance, and he resigned. In the meantime, he had accepted a job offer from Chrysler, so he stopped working as a university lecturer.

Committees of inquiry

Armstrong”s expertise has been put to good use in NASA accident investigations. The first such incident occurred while he was still an active astronaut (albeit after his return from the Moon), when the Apollo 13 mission of 11-17 April 1970 almost turned into a tragedy. Armstrong was also involved in the post-landing investigation as a member of the Edgar Cortright Commission. Armstrong was responsible for compiling a detailed chronology of the flight. He was part of the main conclusion that a 28-volt switch – which should have been replaced with a 65-volt switch when the system was redesigned – caused the explosion. The Cortright committee ultimately recommended in its report that the entire electrical system of the tank be redesigned at a total cost of about $40 million, but many NASA engineers, including Armstrong, were opposed to this finding, saying that it was sufficient to replace the single, well-defined, faulty component at a fraction of the cost. They eventually lost the argument and the tank was redesigned.

His second accident investigation came at a time in his life when he had not had a formal relationship with NASA for some time. The Challenger space shuttle exploded on flight STS-51-L on 28 January 1986, killing seven of its astronauts. President Ronald Reagan formed the independent Rogers Commission to investigate the accident, and asked Armstrong to serve as one of its members as an expert witness. (Armstrong later recalled that he was sitting at home when he received a phone call from the President”s office and was put through to President Reagan. Reagan personally asked Armstrong to assist the committee, to which Neil said yes, saying “you don”t say no to a president when he asks you to do something”. Armstrong was essentially the deputy head of the committee, and his main task was to improve communication. In the end, it was at his suggestion that the number of recommendations was reduced, because he wanted the ”less is more” principle to ensure that the committee”s findings were concise and not skimpy. The report was submitted to Congress on 9 June 1986.

Still in the Reagan administration – and under the impact of the Challenger disaster – the President set up another fourteen-member commission to draw up a vision for America”s long-term space strategy for its 21st century space activities. The committee was chaired by former NASA Director General Thomas O. Paine (Armstrong”s boss during the Apollo programme) and their work was published as Pioneering Vision for Space: A Report of the National Space Council, with recommendations to establish a permanent moon base by 2006 and to send a man to Mars by 2015. The recommendations were largely swept away by history and politics.

Business life

After leaving NASA, Armstrong moved to his native Ohio. There, he bought a farm in Lebanon, near Cincinnati, where he and his wife worked mainly raising livestock and other jobs. The ranch raised cattle, so Armstrong”s presence and active participation at cattle fairs was a natural occurrence. But his many other duties left the ranch mainly to his wife Janet, which later led to their divorce.

Neil has been approached by many companies with offers to become an employee in one form or another (and in most cases, to take advantage of the promotional value). Armstrong first accepted an offer from Chrysler in 1979, after his university education, where he began working as a spokesman and featured in the company”s commercials. Armstrong chose this company because it had a strong technical development apparatus, an ambition that was evident in its products, yet they were only moderately successful in the market. According to his wife”s recollections, four or five Chrysler models were sometimes parked in front of their farmhouse in Lebanon at the same time, because Armstrong proclaimed that he could only help develop and promote products if he knew them in use.

Next to the university and then Chrysler

These latter missions enabled Armstrong to build up considerable financial security for his family in the period after his landing on the moon, and he became a wealthy man without selling his popularity. In all his assignments, it was important to him as an engineer to be able to help the company he was entrusted with solve its problems and to use his knowledge to move it forward.

Arctic expedition

In the early 1980s, an agile mountaineer, Michael Dunn, had the idea of taking the century”s greatest living explorers to the North Pole. The two main targets were Sir Edmund Hillary, the first conqueror of Mount Everest, and Neil Armstrong, the conqueror of the Moon. Dunn managed to capture the imagination of both great explorers (Neil Armstrong said he wondered what the North Pole would look like from below, at sea level, having only ever seen it from above, looking down from the Moon). Dunn recruited a host of other big names from the world of mountaineering to join the two legends, including Hillary”s son Peter, Steve Fossett, who flew the first ever balloon flight around the Earth. Patrick Morrow, the world”s first to climb the highest mountains on all seven continents.

The tour took participants across Canada on a Twin Otter and then on from the northernmost part of the country, Lake Hazen, straight to the North Pole. Landing on polar ice, they reached the Pole on 6 April 1985. Standing on the polar ice, the party cracked open champagne (which immediately froze in the glass), making Sir Edmund Hillary the first man to visit both poles (he also conquered the South Pole in 1958). On their return to Ellesmere Island in their plane, the weather turned so bad that they had to build an ice hut and retreat into it. They spent the rest of the time before doomsday passed telling anecdotes. Edmund Hillary recalled: ”I found Neil Armstrong a very pleasant, likeable man and enjoyed every moment of my time with him”.

After graduating from the University, Armstrong married Janet Elizabeth Shearon, a classmate from Purdue University, on January 28, 1956. The couple moved to California, following Neil”s new job as a commercial airline pilot. Neil initially lived in the Edwards” unmarried officers” quarters, while Janet rented a small sublet in Los Angeles. Later the couple bought a small house in Juniper Hills, an hour”s drive from Los Angeles. The conditions were rather spartan, with no electricity, no hot water, the house was in a state of disrepair and Neil had to renovate it step by step. Typical of the conditions, in the summer Neil would pull a hose from the yard and hang it from a tree to use as a shower. It was here that Armstrong”s first child, son Eric, arrived in 1957, and his second, daughter Karen, in 1959. Karen later died tragically from complications of a brain tumour in 1962.

His selection as a spaceship called him to Houston, so the family moved. In addition to Houston, several new settlements have sprung up on the land that were home to employees of the new NASA centre, including astronauts. Armstrong chose El Lago. After the family moved, the second Armstrong son, Mark, was born here in 1963. The Houston years were not uneventful. One day, the family woke up to find the house on fire. Armstrong heroically put out the fire and rescued the children with the help of neighbor Ed White, but the damage was inevitable. Armstrong”s collections (model airplanes, magazines, photographs) were consumed by the flames.

As a NASA director, he moved briefly to Washington D.C. with his family, and in 1971 Janet and he bought a farm in Neil”s home state of Lebanon, Ohio, near Cincinnati. Neil lived and farmed here and attended to his business and social obligations from here. He maintained an office in Cincinnati, where he received fan mail and organized Neil”s programs, for which he paid a full-time employee. In 1978 Neil had a minor accident on the farm. Jumping off the back of a pickup truck, his wedding ring got caught in the flatbed and tore off a piece of his finger. Neil put the torn off part of his body in ice with great spirit and had it sewn back on at the hospital. Later, after a family ski trip, Janet persuaded Neil to buy a weekend cabin in the mountains where the family could indulge their skiing passion. The family lived in Lebanon for 20 years, when Janet, fed up with Neil”s constant absence, the farm and the family”s cares resting on his shoulders, separated. Neil was so distressed by this situation that in 1991, while skiing with friends, he suffered a minor heart attack from which he fully recovered.

The court granted Armstrong”s divorce in 1994, after 38 years of marriage. That same year, he met Carol Held Knight, a widow from Cincinnati. The meeting was arranged by his friends without his knowledge; Neil, a golf fan (and an active golfer himself), was invited to a golf tournament, after which he was seated next to Carol at the reception. There was not much interaction between them at this meeting, but a few weeks later Neil spontaneously phoned Carol to say that he was trying to cut down a dead cherry tree on his property. An hour and a half later, Neil showed up with a chainsaw to help. Thus began a relationship that ended in marriage. The couple married on 2 June 1994 in California and subsequently moved to Indian Hill, Ohio.

Armstrong”s private life was one of seclusion and modesty. As Michael Collins described it in his own book, We”ll Carry the Fire, when Armstrong became a professor and retired to a cattle ranch, it was as if he had ”retired to his castle and put up the drawbridge”. His modesty was marked by the fact that he fought to the bitter end against anyone trying to profit from his fame. On one occasion, in 1994, he sued Hallmark Cards for issuing a Christmas tree ornament that used his name and the famous quote from him, ”Little Step”, but they refused to give permission. The lawsuit was eventually settled out of court, with Hallmark donating an undisclosed amount to the cause Armstrong had named, Purdue University. On another occasion, he became involved in a lawsuit with Mark Seizmore, a hairdresser for decades, when he sold Armstrong”s severed hair to a collector for thousands of dollars. The astronaut got the hairdresser to donate the money back to the public. Armstrong also resented the opening of a space museum in the town of Wapakoneta named after Armstrong, saying that everyone thought it was his and that the proceeds would enrich him.

On 8 August 2012, it was announced that Armstrong had undergone successful heart surgery. Armstrong was apparently not ill. He celebrated his 82nd birthday joyfully on Sunday and went to the hospital for a check-up on Monday. That”s when it was discovered that he needed emergency surgery. A bypass operation was performed on his heart. He died on 25 August 2012. The family said complications caused her death.

He was laid to rest by the Americans at a memorial service at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC on September 13, 2012. Two other members of the Apollo 11 crew were among the 2,500 mourners who attended the funeral. In a letter, US President Barack Obama paid tribute to the astronaut, who died aged 82. His ashes were scattered in the Atlantic Ocean.

(date of mission in brackets)

Ez egy kis lépés az embernek, egy óriási ugrás az emberiségnek.

Astronomical objects

Immediately after the Apollo 11 mission, NASA formally applied to the International Astronomical Union (IAU) for the official registration of some lunar names. Firstly, the name “Statio Tranquillitatis” (Tranquillity Base), and then, in honour of the astronauts, the renaming of three smaller impact trails near the landing site and nearby Moltke crater – previously only marked Sabine B, D and E – to Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins craters. Armstrong”s crater became crater A with a diameter of 4.6 kilometres. Also bearing a detail of the name of astronaut Armstrong is one of the minerals recovered by the astronauts during the first lunar landing, among the lunar samples, which is not known on Earth and is named in honour of the astronauts: armalcolite.

On the 30th anniversary of the moon landings, astronomers have also considered naming a small planet in honour of the three pioneering astronauts. Czech astronomers discovered the asteroid 1982 PC, a 3-kilometre-diameter small planet orbiting in the inner belt of the inner asteroid belt, a member of the Flora family. Following its discovery in 1982, Czech astronomers proposed naming a small planet after Armstrong in 1982 PC 6469 Armstrong in honour of the 30th anniversary, just as they proposed naming a small planet after Aldrin as 1982 RO 6470 Aldrin and Collins as 1983 EB 6471 Collins. The IAU accepted the names.

Terrestrial objects

There are almost countless streets, schools, buildings and other structures in the world named after Armstrong, with more than a dozen elementary and secondary schools in the US alone. In addition, the Armstrong Museum of Flight and Astronautics has opened in his name in his hometown of Wapakoneta. He is also remembered in other ways by his immediate surroundings, with the New Knoxwille airport – where he made his first attempts as a teenager to learn about aeroplanes – named after him in his lifetime. His alma mater, Purdue University, also commemorated him, naming its Hall of Engineering Sciences after Neil Armstrong, which was unveiled in 2004. The naming ceremony took place on 27 October 2007 and was attended by Armstrong and 14 other astronaut students from the university. NASA also remembered its former employee with gratitude, and as a mark of appreciation, the former Dryden Space Center was renamed the Neil A. Armstrong Flight Research Center in 2014 (the large area of the center remains the Dryden Test Range). Finally, the US Navy, in whose service he became an aviator, also commemorated its former soldier: a new class of ships, a modern oceanographic research unit, named RV Neil Armstrong, was named after the first man to walk on the Moon.


The conquest of the Moon has also been made into a film. Among other things, a series of films commissioned by HBO and directed by Tom Hanks, Ron Howard and Brian Grazer was made in 1998 under the title From the Earth to the Moon. The sixth part of the series, entitled “The Moon Landing” (originally called Mare Tranqulitatis), told the story of Apollo 11, starring Neil Armstrong (and Tony Goldwyn). The series won three Emmy Awards in 1999.

The other major adaptation of Armstrong”s life was the 2018 biopic The First Man, directed by Damien Chazelle. Neil Armstrong was played by Ryan Gosling in the film. The film is based on James R. Hansen”s biography The First Man – The Life of Neil Armstrong, but only covers a short part of the astronaut”s life, from the late 1950s, during his years as a flight pilot, to the late 1960s, when he landed on the moon. The film eventually won both a BAFTA and a Golden Globe Award.


There are, of course, many books about the moon landing in which Armstrong appeared as a “character”, but the number of books in which he played an active role in bringing it to life is much smaller. The first such work was First on the Moon: A Voyage with Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr. published on 1 June 1970 (no Hungarian edition was published), in which the three astronauts told the complete Apollo 11 story from preparation to landing.

The second work had to wait until 2005. Armstrong, true to his seclusion, was not a partner in the writing of a biographical novel, although he was tempted by such distinguished writers as Stephen Ambrose and James A. Michener. In 2005, however, after reading with pleasure another work by James R. Hansen, he gave in to pressure and penned his life story for the author, which was published as First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong. After his death, the book was republished with new chapters (covering the years 2005-2012). This volume served as the basis for the 2018 Damien Chazelle film adaptation.

Another posthumous summary of Neil Armstrong was published in 2014. Jay Barbree, a former television correspondent who covered every space flight from the first Mercury flight to the last Space Shuttle launch as a correspondent for NBC television, a personal acquaintance of most of the astronauts, including a contributor who became friends with Neil Armstrong, recounted the twists and turns of Armstrong”s life and the key milestones in a friendly reminiscence. The work is called Neil Armstrong and was published in 2014.

Stamp, commemorative coin

Many countries around the world have issued Apollo 11 commemorative stamps (e.g. Romania or the United Arab Emirates). Of course, the US Postal Service has also provided collectors with a first-day stamp sheet, issuing two of each. On one of them, a schematic astronaut depiction of Neil Armstrong and his name are stamped alongside the First Day cover (the other shows the lander with the same stamp motif).

In addition, a number of commemorative coins have been created, also to commemorate the achievements of the space trio. The most notable of these is the Congressional Gold Medal, an award established by the United States Congress, which was awarded in 2009 and features Armstrong, Collins and Aldrin, and John Glenn on its plaque.

The Gorsky legend

There is also a joke legend to his name. It is said that while standing on the lunar surface, a phrase escaped his lips, “Good luck Mr. Gorsky!”, which is not found in the radio distribution published by NASA. The background to the story is said to be that as a child, Armstrong overheard a conversation in a neighbour”s house, where the neighbour and his wife were arguing loudly. The wife rebuked her husband, “What? Oral sex? You want oral sex? No. When the neighbour”s kid walks on the moon!”. It was in response to this, some years later, that Armstrong allegedly manifested himself. Armstrong was asked about it several times later, but he never answered, just smiled. He explained the mystery in his 2005 biography: the story was told by a comedian during a stand-up comedy performance in 1995 and has been spreading around the world ever since.


  1. Neil Armstrong
  2. Neil Armstrong