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.
Armstrong joined the NASA Astronaut Corps in the second group, which was selected in 1962.
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 became the first people to land on the moon, and spent two and a half hours outside the spacecraft while Michael Collins remained 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.
His father worked as an auditor for the Ohio state government, and the family moved around the state repeatedly, living in sixteen towns over the next fourteen years. 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.
Armstrong attended Blume High School, and took flying lessons at the grassy Wapakoneta airfield. He earned a student flight certificate on his sixteenth birthday, then soloed in August, all before he had a driver’s license. He was active in the Boy Scouts and earned the rank of Eagle Scout. As an adult, he was recognized by the Boy Scouts of America with its Distinguished Eagle Scout Award and Silver Buffalo Award. On July 18, 1969, while flying toward the Moon, Armstrong greeted the Scouts. Among the few personal items that he carried with him to the Moon and back was a World Scout Badge.
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. Armstrong did not take courses in naval science, nor did he join the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps at Purdue.
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.
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.
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. He was a baritone player in the Purdue All-American Marching Band. Ten years later he was made an honorary member of Kappa Kappa Psi national band honorary fraternity. Armstrong graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering in January 1955. In 1970 he completed his Master of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Southern California (USC). He would eventually be awarded honorary doctorates by several universities.
He applied at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) High-Speed Flight Station at Edwards Air Force Base. 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. 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.
Armstrong, 26, as a test pilot at the NACA High-Speed Flight Station at Edwards AFB, California
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).
Armstrong and X-15-1 after a research flight in 1960
Many of the test pilots at Edwards praised Armstrong’s engineering ability.
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. Armstrong made seven flights in the X-15 between November 30, 1960, and July 26, 1962. 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.
On April 24, 1962, Armstrong flew for the only time with Chuck Yeager.
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. 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.
This time, selection was open to qualified civilian test pilots. Armstrong visited the Seattle World’s Fair in May 1962, and attended a conference there on space exploration that was co-sponsored by NASA.
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. 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.
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”. Armstrong was one of two civilian pilots selected for this group; the other was Elliot See, another former naval aviator. NASA announced the selection of the second group at a press conference on September 17, 1962.
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. 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.
It finally lifted off on August 21. Armstrong and See watched the launch at Cape Kennedy, then flew to the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston. The mission was generally successful, despite a problem with the fuel cells that prevented a rendezvous.
Armstrong, 35, suiting up for Gemini 8 in March 1966
Henceforth, each Gemini mission was commanded by a member of Armstrong’s group, with a member of Scott’s group as the pilot.
Gordon Jr. his pilot. 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.) 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.
The Agena was later reused as a docking target by Gemini 10. Armstrong and Scott received the NASA Exceptional Service Medal, and the Air Force awarded Scott the Distinguished Flying Cross as well. Scott was promoted to lieutenant colonel, and Armstrong received a $678 raise in pay to $21,653 a year (equivalent to $167,206 in 2018), making him NASA’s highest-paid astronaut.
The final assignment for Armstrong in the Gemini program was as the back-up Command Pilot for Gemini 11, announced two days after the landing of Gemini 8.
Having trained for two flights, Armstrong was quite knowledgeable about the systems and took on a teaching role for the rookie backup Pilot, William Anders. The launch was on September 12, 1966, with Conrad and Gordon on board, who successfully completed the mission objectives, while Armstrong served as a capsule communicator (CAPCOM).
On January 27, 1967, the day of the Apollo 1 fire, Armstrong was in Washington, DC with Cooper, Gordon, Lovell and Scott Carpenter for the signing of the United Nations Outer Space Treaty.
Armstrong floats to the ground after ejecting from Lunar Landing Research Vehicle 1
On April 5, 1967, the same day the Apollo 1 investigation released its final report, Armstrong and 17 other astronauts gathered for a meeting with Slayton.
The first thing Slayton said was, “The guys who are going to fly the first lunar missions are the guys in this room.” According to Cernan, only Armstrong showed no reaction to the statement.
To Armstrong it came as no surprise—the room was full of veterans of Project Gemini, the only people who could fly the lunar missions.
Slayton talked about the planned missions and named Armstrong to the backup crew for Apollo 9, which at that stage was planned as a medium Earth orbit test of the combined lunar module and command and service module.
The crew assignment was officially announced November 20, 1967. For crewmates, Armstrong was assigned Lovell and Aldrin, from Gemini 12.
Based on the normal crew rotation, Armstrong would command Apollo 11, with one change: Mike Collins on the Apollo 8 crew began experiencing trouble with his legs.
The LLRV was completely destroyed. Even though he was nearly killed, Armstrong maintained that without the LLRV and LLTV, the lunar landings would not have been successful, as they gave commanders essential experience in piloting the lunar landing craft.
Aldrin and Armstrong trained for a variety of scenarios that could develop during a real lunar landing. They also received briefings from geologists at NASA. When they made a geological expedition to a moon-like area in the mountains of west Texas, the press found out and crowded the area with cars and a helicopter, making it hard for the astronauts to hear the geologist who’d accompanied them.
After Armstrong served as backup commander for Apollo 8, Slayton offered him the post of commander of Apollo 11 on December 23, 1968, as Apollo 8 orbited the Moon. In a meeting that was not made public until the publication of Armstrong’s biography in 2005, Slayton told him that although the planned crew was Commander Armstrong, Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin, and Command Module Pilot Michael Collins, he was offering Armstrong the chance to replace Aldrin with Jim Lovell.
Replacing Aldrin with Lovell would have made Lovell the lunar module pilot, unofficially the lowest ranked member, and Armstrong could not justify placing Lovell, the commander of Gemini 12, in the number 3 position of the crew. The crew of Apollo 11 was officially announced on January 9, 1969, as Armstrong, Collins, and Aldrin, with Lovell, Anders, and Fred Haise as the backup crew.
A Saturn V rocket launched Apollo 11 from Launch Complex 39 site at the Kennedy Space Center on July 16, 1969, at 13:32:00 UTC (09:32:00 EDT local time). Armstrong’s wife Janet and two sons watched from a yacht moored on the Banana River. During the launch, Armstrong’s heart rate peaked at 110 beats per minute. He found the first stage the loudest, much noisier than the Gemini 8 Titan II launch.
Three minutes into the lunar descent, Armstrong noted that craters were passing about two seconds too early, which meant the LM Eagle would probably touch down several miles beyond the planned landing zone. As the Eagle’s landing radar acquired the surface, several computer error alarms sounded.
This took longer than expected, and longer than most simulations had taken. For this reason, Mission Control was concerned that the LM was running low on fuel. On landing, Aldrin and Armstrong believed they had 40 seconds of fuel left, including the 20 seconds’ worth which had to be saved in the event of an abort. During training, Armstrong had, on several occasions, landed the LLTV with fewer than 15 seconds of fuel; he was also confident the LM could survive a fall of up to 50 feet (15 m).
The landing on the surface of the Moon occurred several seconds after 20:17:40 UTC on July 20, 1969. One of three 67-inch (170 cm) probes attached to three of the lunar module’s four legs made contact with the surface, a panel light in the LM illuminated, and Aldrin called out, “Contact light.” Armstrong shut the engine off and said, “Shutdown.” As the LM settled onto the surface, Aldrin said, “Okay, engine stop”; then they both called out some post-landing checklist items.
After a ten-second pause, Duke acknowledged the landing with, “We copy you down, Eagle.” Armstrong announced the landing to Mission Control and the world with the words, “Houston, Tranquility Base here.
Armstrong describes the lunar surface
The flight plan called for a crew rest period before extravehicular activity, but Armstrong requested the EVA be moved to earlier in the evening, Houston time.
Armstrong prepared his famous epigram on his own. In a post-flight press conference, he said that he chose the words “just prior to leaving the LM.” In a 1983 interview in Esquire Magazine, he explained to George Plimpton: “I always knew there was a good chance of being able to return to Earth, but I thought the chances of a successful touch down on the moon surface were about even money—fifty–fifty …
So it didn’t seem to me there was much point in thinking of something to say if we’d have to abort landing.” In 2012, his brother Dean Armstrong said that Neil showed him a draft of the line months before the launch. Historian Andrew Chaikin, who interviewed Armstrong in 1988 for his book A Man on the Moon, disputed that Armstrong claimed to have conceived the line during the mission.
Armstrong on the Moon
About 20 minutes after Armstrong’s first step, Aldrin joined him on the surface, becoming the second human to walk on the Moon.
His final task was to remind Aldrin to leave a small package of memorial items to Soviet cosmonauts Yuri Gagarin and Vladimir Komarov, and Apollo 1 astronauts Grissom, White and Chaffee. The Apollo 11 EVA lasted two and a half hours. Each of the subsequent five landings was allotted a progressively longer EVA period; the crew of Apollo 17 spent over 22 hours exploring the lunar surface. In a 2010 interview, Armstrong explained that NASA limited their Moon walk because they were unsure how the spacesuits would cope with the Moon’s extremely high temperature.
While preparing for the liftoff from the lunar surface, Armstrong and Aldrin discovered that, in their bulky spacesuits, they had broken the ignition switch for the ascent engine; using part of a pen, they pushed the circuit breaker in to activate the launch sequence. The Eagle then continued to its rendezvous in lunar orbit, where it docked with Columbia, the command and service module.
After being released from an 18-day quarantine to ensure that they had not picked up any infections or diseases from the Moon, the crew were feted across the United States and around the world as part of a 38-day “Giant Leap” tour. Armstrong then took part in Bob Hope’s 1969 USO show, primarily to Vietnam. In May 1970, Armstrong traveled to the Soviet Union to present a talk at the 13th annual conference of the International Committee on Space Research; after arriving in Leningrad from Poland, he traveled to Moscow where he met Premier Alexei Kosygin.
Shortly after Apollo 11, Armstrong announced that he did not plan to fly in space again. He was appointed Deputy Associate Administrator for Aeronautics for the Office of Advanced Research and Technology at ARPA, served in the position for a year, then resigned from it and NASA in 1971. He accepted a teaching position in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Cincinnati, having chosen Cincinnati over other universities, including his alma mater Purdue, because Cincinnati had a small aerospace department, and said he hoped the faculty there would not be annoyed that he came straight into a professorship with only a USC master’s degree. He began his master’s degree while stationed at Edwards years before, and completed it after Apollo 11 by presenting a report on various aspects of Apollo, instead of a thesis on the simulation of hypersonic flight.
In 1970, after an explosion aboard Apollo 13 aborted its lunar landing, Armstrong was part of Edgar Cortright’s investigation of the mission.
Bush, Neil Armstrong, and Buzz Aldrin during celebrations of the 35th anniversary of the Apollo 11 flight, July 21, 2004
Paine, with whom Armstrong had worked during the Apollo program.
Armstrong in 1999
He was a humble person, and that’s the way he remained after his lunar flight, as well as before.” Some former astronauts, including Glenn and Harrison Schmitt, sought political careers after leaving NASA; but although Armstrong was approached by groups from both political parties, he declined the offers.
Armstrong underwent bypass surgery on August 7, 2012 to relieve blocked coronary arteries. Although he was reportedly recovering well, he developed complications in the hospital and died on August 25, in Cincinnati, Ohio, aged 82. The White House released a statement describing Armstrong as “among the greatest of American heroes—not just of his time, but of all time”. It went on to say that Armstrong had carried the aspirations of the United States’ citizens and had delivered “a moment of human achievement that will never be forgotten.”
Armstrong’s family released a statement describing him as a “reluctant American hero [who had] served his nation proudly, as a navy fighter pilot, test pilot, and astronaut …
Buzz Aldrin called Armstrong “a true American hero and the best pilot I ever knew”, and said he was disappointed that they would not be able to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing together in 2019. Michael Collins said, “He was the best, and I will miss him terribly.” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said, “As long as there are history books, Neil Armstrong will be included in them, remembered for taking humankind’s first small step on a world beyond our own”.
A tribute was held for Armstrong on September 13 at Washington National Cathedral, whose Space Window depicts the Apollo 11 mission and holds a sliver of Moon rock amid its stained-glass panels. In attendance were Armstrong’s Apollo 11 crewmates, Collins and Aldrin; Gene Cernan, the Apollo 17 mission commander and last man to walk on the Moon; and former senator and astronaut John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth.
Goddard Memorial Trophy (1970); the Sylvanus Thayer Award by the United States Military Academy (1971); the Congressional Space Medal of Honor from President Jimmy Carter (1978); the Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy from the National Aeronautic Association (2001); and a Congressional Gold Medal (2011). Armstrong and his Apollo 11 crewmates were the 1999 recipients of the Langley Gold Medal from the Smithsonian Institution. On April 18, 2006, he received NASA’s Ambassador of Exploration Award. The Space Foundation named Armstrong as a recipient of its 2013 General James E.
Hill Lifetime Space Achievement Award. Armstrong was also inducted into the Aerospace Walk of Honor, the National Aviation Hall of Fame, and the United States Astronaut Hall of Fame. He was awarded his Naval Astronaut badge in a ceremony on board the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D.
President Barack Obama poses with Apollo 11 crew on the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing on July 20, 2009; from left to right, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins, and Neil Armstrong
The lunar crater Armstrong, 31 miles (50 km) from the Apollo 11 landing site, and asteroid 6469 Armstrong are named in his honor. There are more than a dozen elementary, middle and high schools named for Armstrong in the United States, and many places around the world have streets, buildings, schools, and other places named for him and/or Apollo. The Armstrong Air and Space Museum, in Armstrong’s hometown of Wapakoneta, and the airport in New Knoxville, Ohio where he took his first flying lessons at 15, are named after him. Purdue University announced in October 2004 that its new engineering building would be named Neil Armstrong Hall of Engineering; the building was dedicated on October 27, 2007 during a ceremony at which Armstrong was joined by fourteen other Purdue astronauts. The NASA Dryden Flight Research Center was renamed the NASA Neil A.
Armstrong Flight Research Center in 2014. In September 2012, the U.S. Navy announced that the first Armstrong-class vessel would be named RV Neil Armstrong.
Armstrong, was published in 2005.
In an open letter also signed by fellow Apollo veterans Lovell and Cernan, he noted, “For The United States, the leading space faring nation for nearly half a century, to be without carriage to low Earth orbit and with no human exploration capability to go beyond Earth orbit for an indeterminate time into the future, destines our nation to become one of second or even third rate stature”. Armstrong also publicly recalled his initial concerns about the Apollo 11 mission, when he had believed there was only a 50% chance of landing on the Moon.
“I was elated, ecstatic and extremely surprised that we were successful”, he later said. On November 18, 2010, aged 80, Armstrong said in a speech during the Science & Technology Summit in The Hague, Netherlands, that he would offer his services as commander on a mission to Mars if he were asked.