Neil Armstrong

Neil Armstrong

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Neil Armstrong
Armstrong in July 1969
BornNeil Alden Armstrong
August 5, 1930
Wapakoneta, Ohio, U.S.
DiedAugust 25, 2012 (aged 82)
Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.
Alma materPurdue University, B.S. 1955
University of Southern California, M.S. 1970
AwardsPresidential Medal of Freedom
Congressional Space Medal of Honor
Congressional Gold Medal
NASA Distinguished Service Medal
NASA Exceptional Service Medal
Air Medal (3)
Space career
USAF / NASA astronaut
Previous occupationNaval aviatortest pilot
RankLieutenant (junior grade)United States Navy
Time in space8 days, 14 hours, 12 minutes, and 30 seconds
Selection1958 USAF Man In Space Soonest
1960 USAF Dyna-Soar
1962 NASA Group 2
Total EVAs1
Total EVA time2 hours 31 minutes
MissionsGemini 8Apollo 11
Mission insignia 

Neil Alden Armstrong (August 5, 1930 – August 25, 2012) was an American astronaut and aeronautical engineer who was the first person to walk on the Moon. He was also a naval aviatortest pilot, and university professor.

A graduate of Purdue University, Armstrong studied aeronautical engineering with his college tuition paid for by the U.S. Navy under the Holloway Plan. He became a midshipman in 1949, and a naval aviator the following year. He saw action in the Korean War, flying the Grumman F9F Panther from the aircraft carrier USS Essex. In September 1951, he was hit by anti-aircraft firewhile making a low bombing run, and was forced to bail out. After the war, he completed his bachelor’s degree at Purdue and became a test pilot at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) High-Speed Flight Station at Edwards Air Force Base in California. He was the project pilot on Century Series fighters and flew the North American X-15 seven times. He was also a participant in the U.S. Air Force‘s Man in Space Soonest and X-20 Dyna-Soar human spaceflight programs.

Armstrong joined the NASA Astronaut Corps in the second group, which was selected in 1962. He made his first spaceflight as commander of Gemini 8 in March 1966, becoming NASA‘s first civilian astronaut to fly in space. During this mission with pilot David Scott, he performed the first docking of two spacecraft; the mission was aborted after Armstrong used some of his reentry control fuel to remove a dangerous spin caused by a stuck thruster. During training for Armstrong’s second and last spaceflight as commander of Apollo 11, he had to eject from the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle moments before a crash.

In July 1969, Armstrong and Apollo 11 Lunar Module pilot Buzz Aldrin performed the first manned Moon landing, and spent two and a half hours outside the spacecraft while Michael Collinsremained in lunar orbit in the command and service module. When Armstrong stepped onto the lunar surface, he famously said: “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” Along with Collins and Aldrin, Armstrong was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Richard Nixon. President Jimmy Carter presented Armstrong with the Congressional Space Medal of Honor in 1978, and Armstrong and his former crewmates received a Congressional Gold Medal in 2009.

After he resigned from NASA in 1971, Armstrong taught in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Cincinnati until 1979. He served on the Apollo 13 accident investigation, and on the Rogers Commission, which investigated the Space Shuttle Challengerdisaster. He acted as a spokesman for several businesses, and appeared in advertising for the automotive brand Chrysler starting in January 1979.


Early years

Armstrong was born on August 5, 1930, near Wapakoneta, Ohio,[1] to Stephen Koenig Armstrong and Viola Louise née Engel. He was of German, Scottish and Scots-Irish ancestry,[2][3] and had a younger sister, June, and a younger brother, Dean. His father worked as an auditorfor the Ohio state government,[4] and the family moved around the state repeatedly, living in sixteen towns over the next fourteen years.[5]Armstrong’s love for flying grew during this time, having started early when his father took his two-year-old son to the Cleveland Air Races. When he was five or six, he experienced his first airplane flight in Warren, Ohio, when he and his father took a ride in a Ford Trimotor, also known as the “Tin Goose”.[6][7]

His father’s last move was in 1944, back to Wapakoneta. Armstrong attended Blume High School, and took flying lessons at the grassy Wapakoneta airfield.[1] He earned a student flight certificate on his sixteenth birthday, then soloed in August, all before he had a driver’s license.[8] He was active in the Boy Scouts and earned the rank of Eagle Scout.[9] As an adult, he was recognized by the Boy Scouts of Americawith its Distinguished Eagle Scout Award and Silver Buffalo Award.[10][11] On July 18, 1969, while flying toward the Moon, Armstrong greeted the Scouts.[12] Among the few personal items that he carried with him to the Moon and back was a World Scout Badge.[13]

In 1947, at age 17, Armstrong began studying aeronautical engineering at Purdue University. He was the second person in his family to attend college. He was also accepted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), but an uncle who had attended MIT dissuaded him from attending, telling him that it was not necessary to go all the way to Cambridge, Massachusetts, for a good education. His college tuition was paid for under the Holloway Plan. Successful applicants committed to two years of study, followed by two years of flight training and one year of service in the U.S. Navy as an aviator, then completion of the final two years of their bachelor’s degree.[14] Armstrong did not take courses in naval science, nor did he join the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps at Purdue.[15]

Navy service

A black-and-white image of a light-skinned man in his early 20s. He is looking off to his right. He has mid-colored hair parted to the right. He wears a light-colored military uniform with an eagle badge on the left chest. His epaulettes are dark and have a light bar and star. He has a white shirt and a dark necktie.

Ensign Neil Armstrong on May 23, 1952

Armstrong’s call-up from the Navy arrived on January 26, 1949, requiring him to report to Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida for flight training with class 5-49. After passing the medical examinations, he became a midshipman on February 24, 1949.[16] Flight training was conducted in a North American SNJ trainer, in which he soloed on September 9, 1949.[17] On March 2, 1950, he made his first aircraft carrier landing on the USS Cabot, an achievement he considered comparable to his first solo flight.[17] He was then sent to Naval Air Station Corpus Christi in Texas for training on the Grumman F8F Bearcat, culminating in a carrier landing on the USS Wright. On August 16, 1950, Armstrong was informed by letter that he was a fully qualified naval aviator. His mother and sister attended his graduation ceremony on August 23, 1950.[18]

Armstrong’s assignment was to Fleet Aircraft Service Squadron 7 (FASRON 7) at NAS San Diego (now known as NAS North Island). On November 27, 1950, he was assigned to VF-51, an all-jet squadron, becoming its youngest officer, and made his first flight in a jet, a Grumman F9F Panther, on January 5, 1951. He was promoted to ensign on June 5, 1951, and made his first jet carrier landing on USS Essex two days later. On June 28, 1951, Essex had set sail for Korea, with VF-51 aboard to act as ground-attack aircraft. VF-51 flew ahead to Naval Air Station Barbers Point in Hawaii, where it conducted fighter-bomber training before rejoining the ship at the end of July.[19]

On August 29, 1951, Armstrong saw action in the Korean War as an escort for a photo reconnaissance plane over Songjin.[20] Five days later, on September 3, he flew armed reconnaissance over the primary transportation and storage facilities south of the village of Majon-ni, west of Wonsan. Making a low bombing run at 350 mph (560 km/h), Armstrong’s F9F Panther was hit by anti-aircraft fire. While trying to regain control, he collided with a pole at a height of 20 feet (6 m), which sliced off 3 feet (1 m) of the Panther’s right wing.[21]

Two dark-blue-painted single-seat military jets flying from left to right in echelon. They wear the mark of the U.S. military on the nose, and a number. The nearer plane is 107 and the further is 116. On the fin is the letter 'S' and just in front the word NAVY. The planes have wingtip drop tanks and bubble canopies.

F9F-2 Panthers over Korea, with Armstrong piloting S-116 (left)

Armstrong flew the plane back to friendly territory, but due to the loss of the aileronejection was his only safe option. He intended to eject over water and await rescue by Navy helicopters, but his parachute was blown back over land. A jeep driven by a roommate from flight school picked him up; it is unknown what happened to the wreckage of his aircraft, F9F-2 BuNo 125122.[22]

In all, Armstrong flew 78 missions over Korea for a total of 121 hours in the air, a third of them in January 1952, with the final mission on March 5, 1952. Of 492 U.S. Navy personnel killed in the Korean War, 27 of them were from the Essex on this war cruise. Armstrong received the Air Medal for 20 combat missions, two gold stars for the next 40, the Korean Service Medal and Engagement Star,[23]the National Defense Service Medal and the United Nations Korea Medal. His regular commission was terminated on February 25, 1952, and he became an ensign in the United States Navy Reserve. On completion of his combat tour with Essex, he was assigned to a transport squadron, VR-32, in May 1952. He was released from active duty on August 23, 1952, but remained in the reserves, and was promoted to lieutenant (junior grade) on May 9, 1953.[24] As a reservist, he continued to fly, with VF-724 at Naval Air Station Glenview in Illinois, and then, after moving to California, with VF-773 at Naval Air Station Los Alamitos.[25] He remained in the reserve for eight years, before resigning his commission on October 21, 1960.[24]

College years

After his service with the Navy, Armstrong returned to Purdue. His previously earned good but not outstanding grades now improved, lifting his final Grade Point Average (GPA) to a respectable but not outstanding 4.8 out of 6.0. He pledged the Phi Delta Theta fraternity, and lived in its fraternity house. He wrote and co-directed two musicals as part of the all-student revue. The first was a version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, co-directed with his girlfriend Joanne Alford from the Alpha Chi Omega sorority, with songs from the Walt Disney film, including Someday My Prince Will Come; the second was titled The Land of Egelloc, with music from Gilbert and Sullivan but new lyrics. He was chairman of the Purdue Aero Flying Club, and flew the club’s aircraft, an Aeronca and a couple of Pipers, which were kept at nearby Aretz Airport in Lafayette, Indiana. Flying the Aeronca to Wapakoneta in 1954, he damaged it in a rough landing in a farmer’s field, and it had to be hauled back to Lafayette on a trailer.[26] He was a baritone player in the Purdue All-American Marching Band.[27] Ten years later he was made an honorary member of Kappa Kappa Psi national band honorary fraternity.[28] Armstrong graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering in January 1955.[25] In 1970 he completed his Master of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Southern California (USC).[29] He would eventually be awarded honorary doctorates by several universities.[30]

Armstrong met Janet Elizabeth Shearon, who was majoring in home economics, at a party hosted by Alpha Chi Omega.[31] According to the couple, there was no real courtship, and neither could remember the exact circumstances of their engagement. They were married on January 28, 1956, at the Congregational Church in Wilmette, Illinois. When he moved to Edwards Air Force Base, he lived in the bachelor quarters of the base, while Janet lived in the Westwood district of Los Angeles. After one semester, they moved into a house in Antelope Valley. Janet did not finish her degree, a fact she regretted later in life. The couple had three children: Eric, Karen, and Mark.[32] In June 1961, Karen was diagnosed with a malignant tumor of the middle part of her brain stem; X-ray treatment slowed its growth, but her health deteriorated to the point where she could no longer walk or talk. She died of pneumonia, related to her weakened health, on January 28, 1962, aged two.[33]

Test pilot

Following his graduation from Purdue, Armstrong became an experimental research test pilot. He applied at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) High-Speed Flight Station at Edwards Air Force Base.[34] NACA had no open positions, and forwarded his application to the Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory in Cleveland, where Armstrong made his first test flight on March 1, 1955.[34] Armstrong’s stint at Cleveland lasted only a couple of months before a position at the High-Speed Flight Station became available, and he reported for work there on July 11, 1955.[35]

A black-and-white photo of a young man with light skin and pale irises. His mid-colored hair is cut short. He is looking at the camera. He is wearing a barleycorn sport coat, a white shirt and a dark necktie.

Armstrong, 26, as a test pilot at the NACAHigh-Speed Flight Station at Edwards AFB, California

On his first day, Armstrong was tasked with piloting chase planes during releases of experimental aircraft from modified bombers. He also flew the modified bombers, and on one of these missions had his first flight incident at Edwards. On March 22, 1956, he was in a Boeing B-29 Superfortress,[36] which was to air-drop a Douglas D-558-2 Skyrocket. He sat in the right-hand pilot seat while the left-hand seat commander, Stan Butchart, flew the B-29.[37]

As they climbed to 30,000 feet (9 km), the number-four engine stopped and the propeller began windmilling (rotating freely) in the airstream. Hitting the switch that would stop the propeller’s spinning, Butchart found it slowed but then started spinning again, this time even faster than the others; if it spun too fast, it would break apart. Their aircraft needed to hold an airspeed of 210 mph (338 km/h) to launch its Skyrocket payload, and the B-29 could not land with the Skyrocket attached to its belly. Armstrong and Butchart brought the aircraft into a nose-down attitude to increase speed, then launched the Skyrocket. At the instant of launch, the number-four engine propeller disintegrated. Pieces of it damaged the number-three engine and hit the number-two engine. Butchart and Armstrong were forced to shut down the damaged number-three engine, along with the number-one engine, due to the torque it created. They made a slow, circling descent from 30,000 ft (9 km) using only the number-two engine, and landed safely.[38]

Armstrong served as project pilot on Century Series fighters, including the North American F-100 Super SabreA and C variants, the McDonnell F-101 Voodoo, the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, the Republic F-105 Thunderchief and the Convair F-106 Delta Dart. He also flew the Douglas DC-3Lockheed T-33 Shooting StarNorth American F-86 SabreMcDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom IIDouglas F5D-1 Skylancer, Boeing B-29 Superfortress, Boeing B-47 Stratojet and Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker, and was one of eight elite pilots involved in the Parasev paraglider research vehicle program.[39] Over his career, he flew more than 200 different models of aircraft.[29] His first flight in a rocket-powered aircraft was on August 15, 1957, in the Bell X-1B, to an altitude of 11.4 miles (18.3 km). On landing, the poorly designed nose landing gear failed, as had happened on about a dozen previous flights of the Bell X-1B. He flew the North American X-15 seven times,[40]including the first flight with the Q-ball system, the first flight of the number 3 X-15 airframe, and the first flight of the MH-96 adaptive flight control system.[41][42] He became an employee of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) when it was established on October 1, 1958, absorbing NACA.[43]

Armstrong was involved in several incidents that went down in Edwards folklore or were chronicled in the memoirs of colleagues. During his sixth X-15 flight on April 20, 1962, when Armstrong was testing the MH-96 control system, he flew to a height of over 207,000 feet (63 km) (the highest he flew before Gemini 8). He held up the aircraft nose for too long during its descent to demonstrate the MH-96’s g-limiting performance, and the X-15 ballooned back up to around 140,000 feet (43 km). He flew past the landing field at Mach 3 at over 100,000 feet (30 km) in altitude, and ended up 40 miles (64 km) south of Edwards. After sufficient descent, he turned back toward the landing area, and landed, just missing Joshua trees at the south end. It was the longest X-15 flight in both flight time and length of the ground track.[44]

A black-and-white photo of Armstrong, with very short hair. He is smiling and is wearing a pressure suit and tall lace-up boots. Under his left arm he holds a bulky pressure helmet. He has black gloves on, and his right hand rests on the nose of a dark-painted X-15 rocket plane with its canopy open. Armstrong and the plane are standing on a desert crust, and the plane's skids have left tracks in it.

Armstrong and X-15-1 after a research flight in 1960

Many of the test pilots at Edwards praised Armstrong’s engineering ability. Milt Thompson said he was “the most technically capable of the early X-15 pilots”. Bill Dana said Armstrong “had a mind that absorbed things like a sponge”. Those who flew for the Air Force tended to have a different opinion, especially people like Chuck Yeager and Pete Knight, who did not have engineering degrees. Knight said that pilot-engineers flew in a way that was “more mechanical than it is flying”, and gave this as the reason why some pilot-engineers got into trouble: their flying skills did not come naturally.[45] Armstrong made seven flights in the X-15 between November 30, 1960, and July 26, 1962.[46] He reached a top speed of Mach 5.74 (3,989 mph, 6,420 km/h) in the X-15-1, and left the Flight Research Center with a total of 2,400 flying hours.[47]

On April 24, 1962, Armstrong flew for the only time with Chuck Yeager. Their job, flying a T-33, was to evaluate Smith Ranch Dry Lake in Nevada for use as an emergency landing site for the X-15. In his autobiography, Yeager wrote that he knew the lake bed was unsuitable for landings after recent rains, but Armstrong insisted on flying out anyway. As they attempted a touch-and-go, the wheels became stuck and they had to wait for rescue. As Armstrong told the story, Yeager never tried to talk him out of it and they made a first successful landing on the east side of the lake. Then Yeager told him to try again, this time a bit slower. On the second landing, they became stuck, provoking Yeager to fits of laughter.[48]

On May 21, 1962, Armstrong was involved in the “Nellis Affair”. He was sent in an F-104 to inspect Delamar Dry Lake in southern Nevada, again for emergency landings. He misjudged his altitude, and did not realize that the landing gear had not fully extended. As he touched down, the landing gear began to retract; Armstrong applied full power to abort the landing, but the ventral fin and landing gear door struck the ground, damaging the radio and releasing hydraulic fluid. Without radio communication, Armstrong flew south to Nellis Air Force Base, past the control tower, and waggled his wings, the signal for a no-radio approach. The loss of hydraulic fluid caused the tailhook to release, and upon landing, he caught the arresting wire attached to an anchor chain, and dragged the chain along the runway.[49]

It took thirty minutes to clear the runway and rig another arresting cable. Armstrong telephoned Edwards and asked for someone to collect him. Milt Thompson was sent in an F-104B, the only two-seater available, but a plane Thompson had never flown. With great difficulty, Thompson made it to Nellis, where a strong crosswind caused a hard landing and the left main tire suffered a blowout. The runway was again closed to clear it, and Bill Dana was sent to Nellis in a T-33, but he almost landed long. The Nellis base operations office then decided that to avoid any further problems, it would be best to find the three NASA pilots ground transport back to Edwards.[49]

Astronaut career

Armstrong standing up, wearing an early space suit. It is highly reflective silver in appearance. He is wearing the helmet, which is white, with the visor raised. A thick dark hose is connected to one of the two ports on the front abdomen of the suit.

Armstrong in an early Gemini spacesuit

In June 1958, Armstrong was selected for the U.S. Air Force’s Man In Space Soonest program, but the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) cancelled its funding on August 1, 1958, and on November 5, 1958, it was superseded by Project Mercury, a civilian project run by NASA. As a NASA civilian test pilot, Armstrong was ineligible to become one of its astronauts at this time, as selection was restricted to military test pilots.[50][51] In November 1960, he was chosen as part of the pilot consultant group for the X-20 Dyna-Soar, a military space plane under development by Boeing for the U.S. Air Force, and on March 15, 1962, he was selected by the U.S. Air Force as one of seven pilot-engineers who would fly the X-20 when it got off the design board.[52][53]

In April 1962, NASA announced that applications were being sought for the second group of NASA astronauts for Project Gemini, a proposed two-man spacecraft. This time, selection was open to qualified civilian test pilots.[54] Armstrong visited the Seattle World’s Fair in May 1962, and attended a conference there on space exploration that was co-sponsored by NASA. After he returned from Seattle on June 4, he applied to become an astronaut. His application arrived about a week past the June 1, 1962, deadline, but Dick Day, a flight simulator expert with whom Armstrong had worked closely at Edwards, saw the late arrival of the application and slipped it into the pile before anyone noticed.[55] At Brooks Air Force Base at the end of June, Armstrong underwent a medical exam that many of the applicants described as painful and at times seemingly pointless.[56]

NASA’s Director of Flight Crew Operations, Deke Slayton, called Armstrong on September 13, 1962, and asked whether he would be interested in joining the NASA Astronaut Corps as part of what the press dubbed “the New Nine“; without hesitation, Armstrong said yes. The selections were kept secret until three days later, although newspaper reports had circulated since earlier that year that he would be selected as the “first civilian astronaut”.[57] Armstrong was one of two civilian pilots selected for this group;[58] the other was Elliot See, another former naval aviator.[59] NASA announced the selection of the second group at a press conference on September 17, 1962. Compared with the Mercury Seven astronauts, they were younger,[56] and had more impressive academic credentials.[60]

Gemini program

Gemini 5

On February 8, 1965, Armstrong and Elliot See were announced as the backup crew for Gemini 5, with Armstrong as commander, supporting the prime crew of Gordon Cooper and Pete Conrad.[61] The mission’s purpose was to practice space rendezvous and to develop procedures and equipment for a seven-day flight, all of which would be required for a mission to the Moon. With two other flights (Gemini 3 and Gemini 4) in preparation, six crews were competing for simulator time, so Gemini 5 was postponed. It finally lifted off on August 21.[62] Armstrong and See watched the launch at Cape Kennedy, then flew to the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston.[63] The mission was generally successful, despite a problem with the fuel cells that prevented a rendezvous. Cooper and Conrad practiced a “phantom rendezvous”, carrying out the maneuver without a target.[64]

Gemini 8

Main article: Gemini 8

Armstrong, with short hair, partially reclining on a beige chair. He looks very serious. He is wearing a white spacesuit without a helmet or gloves. It has the U.S. flag on the left shoulder. Two hoses are attached. A technician dressed all in white is bending over him. A dark-haired, darkly dressed man has his back to us. He may be talking to Armstrong.

Armstrong, 35, suiting up for Gemini 8 in March 1966

The crew assignments for Gemini 8 were announced on September 20, 1965. Under the normal rotation system, the backup crew for one mission became the prime crew for the third mission after, but Slayton designated David Scott as the pilot of Gemini 8.[65][66] Scott was the first member of the third group of astronauts, whose selection was announced on October 18, 1963, to receive a prime crew assignment.[67] See was designated to command Gemini 9. Henceforth, each Gemini mission was commanded by a member of Armstrong’s group, with a member of Scott’s group as the pilot. Conrad would be Armstrong’s backup this time, and Richard F. Gordon Jr. his pilot.[65][66] Armstrong became the first American civilian in space. (Valentina Tereshkova of the Soviet Union had become the first civilian (and first woman) nearly three years earlier aboard Vostok 6 when it launched on June 16, 1963.[68]) Armstrong would also be the last of his group to fly in space, as See died in a T-38 crash on February 28, 1966, that also took the life of crewmate Charles Bassett. They were replaced by the backup crew of Tom Stafford and Gene Cernan, while Jim Lovell and Buzz Aldrin moved up from the backup crew of Gemini 10 to become the backup for Gemini 9,[69] and would eventually fly Gemini 12.[70]

Gemini 8 launched on March 16, 1966. It was the most complex mission yet, with a rendezvous and docking with an unmanned Agena target vehicle, and the second American space walk (EVA) by Scott. The mission was planned to last 75 hours and 55 orbits. After the Agena lifted off at 10:00:00 EST,[71] the Titan II rocket carrying Armstrong and Scott ignited at 11:41:02 EST, putting them into an orbit from which they chased the Agena.[72] They achieved the first-ever docking between two spacecraft.[73] Contact with the crew was intermittent due to the lack of tracking stations covering their entire orbits. While out of contact with the ground, the docked spacecraft began to roll, and Armstrong attempted to correct this with the Gemini’s Orbit Attitude and Maneuvering System (OAMS). Following the earlier advice of Mission Control, they undocked, but the roll increased dramatically until they were turning about once per second, indicating a problem with Gemini’s attitude control. Armstrong engaged the Reentry Control System (RCS) and turned off the OAMS. Mission rules dictated that once this system was turned on, the spacecraft had to reenter at the next possible opportunity. It was later thought that damaged wiring caused one of the thrusters to stick in the on position.[74]

A dark gray Gemini capsule floats horizontally in blue water. It is supported by a yellow flotation collar. The hatches are open and the astronauts are visible sitting in their places wearing sunglasses. They are being assisted by three recovery crew in dark gray wetsuits.

Recovery of Gemini 8 from the western Pacific Ocean; Armstrong sitting to the right

A few people in the Astronaut Office, including Walter Cunningham, felt Armstrong and Scott “had botched their first mission”.[75] Ther

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