Neil Armstrong 1930-2012
Businesweek records the life of Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon:
Armstrong was born Aug. 5, 1930, on a farm near Wapakoneta in western Ohio. He took his first airplane ride at age 6 and developed a fascination with aviation that prompted him to build model airplanes and conduct experiments in a homemade wind tunnel.
As a boy, he worked at a pharmacy and took flying lessons. He was licensed to fly at 16, before he got his driver’s license.
Armstrong enrolled in Purdue University to study aeronautical engineering but was called to duty with the U.S. Navy in 1949 and flew 78 combat missions in Korea.
After the war, Armstrong finished his degree from Purdue and later earned a master’s degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Southern California. He became a test pilot with what evolved into the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, flying more than 200 kinds of aircraft from gliders to jets.
He commanded the historic landing of the Apollo 11 spacecraft on the moon July 20, 1969, capping the most daring of the 20th century’s scientific expeditions and becoming the first man to walk on the moon.
His first words after the feat are etched in history books and the memories of the spellbound millions who heard them in a live broadcast.
An estimated 600 million people — a fifth of the world’s population — watched and listened to the landing, the largest audience for any single event in history.
Armstrong, who had bypass surgery earlier this month, died Saturday at age 82 from what his family said were complications of heart procedures. His family didn’t say where he died; he had lived in suburban Cincinnati.
He was “a reluctant American hero who always believed he was just doing his job,” his family said in a statement.
“I am, and ever will be, a white socks, pocket protector, nerdy engineer,” he said in 2000 in one of his rare public appearances. “And I take a substantial amount of pride in the accomplishments of my profession.”
Rice University historian Douglas Brinkley, who interviewed Armstrong for NASA’s oral history project, said Armstrong fit every requirement the space agency needed for the first man to walk on moon, especially because of his engineering skills and the way he handled celebrity by shunning it.
“I think his genius was in his reclusiveness,” said Brinkley. “He was the ultimate hero in an era of corruptible men.”
For anyone else who wanted to remember him, his family’s statement made a simple request:
“Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.”
USA Today reported a wonderful tribute from John Glenn:
On a personal note, Glenn spoke of the lessons from Armstrong’s life.
“It would be great if every person could find something like that that would give them that much pleasure that they would dedicate their lives to. Everyone should pick their field they are interested in and then try to get the finest education possible to allow them to participate in that field.”
Regardless of his feat in accomplishing the most daring scientific expedition of the 20th century, Armstrong remained modest and self-effacing.
“I guess we all like to be recognized not for one piece of fireworks but for the ledger of our daily work,” he said in a CBS interview.
Armstrong left NASA a year after the Apollo 11 mission to become a professor of engineering at the University of Cincinnati.
The Guardian recalled Armstrong’s last interview:
He described the crew’s harrowing 12-minute descent to the moon, when he realised that the Eagle lunar module’s auto-pilot was preparing to land the crew on the slope of a huge moon crater. “The computer showed us where it intended to land, and it was a very bad location, on the side of a large crater about 100-150m in diameter with very steep slopes covered with very large boulders – not a good place to land at all,” he said.
Armstrong took over the craft manually and managed to land it like a helicopter in a smoother area to the west with just 20 seconds of fuel left.
As for “that’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind,” Armstrong says he didn’t think of those words until after they’d landed safely.
Of his time on the moon’s surface, he said: “It was special and memorable but it was only instantaneous because there was work to do. We weren’t there to meditate. We were there to get things done. So we got on with it.”
In Washington Post, a lovely story from a press conference in 1999:
The thing that everyone has asked them for 30 years is how the trip to the moon changed their lives, and this day was no exception. It’s a question they struggle with. Aldrin, always the most garrulous, came closest to answering, mentioning his evolving spirituality. On the moon, he served himself communion, which seemed appropriate at the time. Since then, he said, he’s adopted a more “Einsteinian” view of the universe, what he called a “cosmic religious” sensibility.
Armstrong said that, because of the moon trip, “I get to go to a lot more press conferences” at which people ask how the moon changed his life.
He then said he didn’t know how it had changed his life because, having been to the moon, he had no way of knowing what his life would have been like had he not gone to the moon. This was vintage Armstrong: Logic rules.
And yet he also had the most purely inspiring comment of the day. When he was a kid, the same age as the students asking questions, no one had ever flown a plane at supersonic speed. There was no space program. Going to the moon was pure science fiction. In his lifetime–in the first half of his lifetime–everything changed.
“Opportunities will be available to you that you cannot imagine,” he said.
So true. So very true.
I was among the half billion of humankind who followed the chatter of the Eagle’s descent from orbit to the moon, by radio, because there was no TV in India then. Most childhood heroes fall by the way, because their achievements do not grow as you do. By going back to a life, and managing that re-entry well, by continuing to do his job, Neil Armstrong remained a hero.