Neil Armstrong

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Astronaut profile
Selection date 1962
Retirement date 1969
Time in space 8/14:10
Gemini 8, Apollo 11

Neil Alden Armstrong (born August 5, 1930) is a former American test pilot and astronaut who was the first man to walk on the Moon.

Armstrong was born near Wapakoneta, Ohio and served in the Korean War as a U.S. Navy fighter pilot. In 1950, he was sent to Korea where he flew 78 combat missions from USS Essex in a Grumman F9F-2 Panther. He received the Air Medal with two Gold Stars. He attended Purdue University where he was a member of Phi Delta Theta fraternity and Kappa Kappa Psi National Honorary Band Fraternity, and received a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering in 1955. He later earned a masters degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Southern California.

Armstrong then became a civilian test pilot for the NACA (the predecessor to NASA) at the High-Speed Flight Station at Edwards Air Force Base, California. Armstrong made a total of seven flights in the North American X-15, reaching an altitude of 207,500 feet (~63km) in the X-15-3 and a speed of Mach 5.74 (6,615 km/h or 3,989 mph) in the X-15-1. He left the Flight Research Center with a total of 2,450 flying hours in more than 50 types of aircraft.

From 1960 to 1962 he was a pilot involved in the X-20 Dyna-Soar orbital glider program.


Career as an astronaut

Armstrong was selected by NASA as an astronaut in 1962. He served as the backup command pilot for the Gemini 5 mission in 1965.

He commanded Gemini 8, which achieved the first docking of two orbiting spacecraft, in 1966, but aborted shortly after docking, because of malfunctioning maneuvering thrusters. He was the backup command pilot for the Gemini 11 mission in 1966. He also served as commander of the backup crew for the Apollo 8 lunar orbital mission in 1968.

Armstrong narrowly escaped death during training in the crash of a lunar landing research vehicle (LLRV) on May 6, 1969 (see List of space disasters.)

In July 1969, Armstrong commanded the Apollo 11 lunar landing mission, which included lunar module pilot Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin and command module pilot Michael Collins.

The Apollo 11 mission was launched from Cape Kennedy, Florida on July 16, 1969. The moon landing took place on July 20, 1969. During the actual lunar landing, Armstrong took manual control of the Lunar Module (LM) Eagle and piloted it away from a rocky area to a safe landing. His first words from the Moon were: "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed." (The first words on the moon, "Contact light", were spoken by Buzz Aldrin). Several hours later he climbed out of the LM and became the first person to walk on the Moon and said:

Neil Armstrong works at the LM in one of the few photos taken of him from the lunar surface. NASA photo AS11-40-5886
Neil Armstrong works at the LM in one of the few photos taken of him from the lunar surface. NASA photo AS11-40-5886
"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
(hear original audio, in WAV audio format)

Although, if taken literally as spoken, the famous phrase is an oxymoron, as man and mankind can be used as synonyms, matters of pragmatics, especially Gricean maxims, ensure that the speaker's intent is clear to listeners, namely that Armstrong is contrasting a literal step taken by an individual man with a metaphorical leap taken by humankind. Armstrong and NASA defended the original intent to say "...for a man...", variously claiming tape errors, static, and the like. However, the original recording contains ambiguity at the critical moment. Despite static both before and after the key phrase, the words "for man", with scarcely a pause between, are clearly audible. Armstrong later admitted that despite planning and rehearsal, the line was spoken incorrectly.

The Apollo 11 crew returned safely to earth on July 24, 1969 to worldwide acclaim.

Shortly after the flight, the International Astronomical Union named a small lunar crater named in his honor near the Apollo 11 landing site. The Armstrong Air and Space Museum, built in his home town commemorates his achievements and those of other Ohio aviators.

Follow-on career

Armstrong joined the faculty of the University of Cincinnati in 1971, and remained there as a professor of aerospace engineering until 1979. He was named vice chairman of the presidential commission that investigated the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle.

Armstrong served as chairman of AIL Technologies, an electronics and avionics manufacturer, from 1989 until he retired in 2002. He has kept a low profile during his retirement, rarely giving interviews or making public appearances. He lives in Lebanon Ohio.

In 2005, Armstrong said that a human voyage to Mars will be easier than the lunar challenge of the 1960s: "...I suspect that even though the various questions are difficult and many, they are not as difficult and many as those we faced when we started the Apollo (space program) in 1961." Armstrong also recalled his initial concerns about the Apollo 11 mission. He had believed there was only a 50 percent chance of landing on the moon. "I was elated, ecstatic and extremely surprised that we were successful," he said.[1]

Private life

Armstrong has always preferred a life outside of the spotlight, but he has not always been able to keep it as such.

In 1972, Neil Armstrong, was welcomed into the town of Langholm, Scotland. It was the traditional seat of Clan Armstrong and the astronaut was made the first freeman of the burgh. He happily declared the town his home. [2]

In May 2005, Armstrong became involved in an unusual legal battle with barber Marx Sizemore of Lebanon, Ohio. After cutting Armstrong's hair, Sizemore sold some of it to a collector for $3,000 without Armstrong's knowledge or consent. Armstrong threatened legal action unless the barber returned the hair or donated the proceeds to a charity of Armstrong's choosing. [3]

Among the myths that spread about Armstrong after the flight is one found in Muslim countries where it is said that he converted to Islam after walking on the Moon. [4]


After many years of unrelenting privacy, Armstrong authorized a biography. Titled First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong (2005) (ISBN: 074325631X) and written by James R. Hansen, it describes Armstrong's initial interest in aviation, his service in the Korean War and his experiences as an Apollo astronaut.


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