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A tribute to Neil Armstrong

It was July 20, 1969 when Neil Armstrong spoke what must be considered the most famous words of the 20th century, "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind". This, of course, was the day that men from Earth first set foot on the Moon. It was the culmination of years of research and development, success and failure, and bitter competition from our feared rivals. And it was the words of a 38 year old Neil Armstrong that echo in the annals of history.

Neil Alden Armstrong (August 5, 1930 – August 25, 2012) was an American astronaut and the first person to walk on the Moon. He was also an aerospace engineer, naval aviator, test pilot, and university professor. Before becoming an astronaut, Armstrong was an officer in the U.S. Navy and served in the Korean War. Naturally interested in aviation, after the war, he earned his bachelor's degree at Purdue University in Aeronautical Engineering and served as a test pilot at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics High-Speed Flight Station, now known as the Dryden Flight Research Center, where he logged over 900 flights. He later completed graduate studies at the University of Southern California.

Armstrong was called to Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida in 1949 before he could complete his degree. There he earned his wings at 20 years of age, making him the youngest pilot in his squadron. He then flew 78 combat mission in Korea, earning three medals, including the Korean Service Medal. But Armstrong was sent home before the conclusion of the war and finished his Bachelors degree in 1955.

After completing his degree at Purdue, Armstrong decided to try his hand as a test pilot. After an initial application to the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) -- the prelude to the creation of NASA -- was turned down he took a post at Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory in Cleveland, Ohio. However, it was less than a year before Armstrong transfered to Edwards Air force Base (AFB) in California to work with the NACA's High Speed Flight Station.


During his tenure at Edwards Armstrong conducted test flights of over 50 types of experimental aircraft, logging 2,450 hours of air time. Among his accomplishments in these aircraft, Armstrong was able to achieve speeds of Mach 5.74 (4,000 mph or 6,615 km/h) and an altitude of 63,198 meters (207,500 feet), but in the X-15 aircraft.

Armstrong, being an engineer by training, had a technical efficiency to his flying that was the envy of most of his colleagues. However, he was criticized by some of the non-engineering pilots, including Chuck Yeager and Pete Knight, that observed that his flying technique was too mechanical. They argued that flying was, at least in part, feel. Something that didn't come naturally to the engineers, and it was this fact that sometimes got them into trouble.

Armstrong was a Fellow of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots and the Royal Aeronautical Society and an Honorary Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the International Astronautics Federation.

Armstrong was a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the Academy of the Kingdom of Morocco.  He served as a member of the National Commission on Space (1985 to 1986), as Vice-Chairman of the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident (1986) and as Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee for the Peace Corps (1971 to 1973).

Armstrong was decorated by 17 countries.  He was the recipient of many special honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Medal, the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, the Explorers Club Medal, the Robert H. Goddard Memorial Trophy, the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, the Harmon International Aviation Trophy, the Royal Geographic Society's Gold Medal, the Federation Aeronautic International's Gold Space Medal, the American Aeronautical Society Flight Achievement Award, the Robert J. Collier Trophy, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Astronautics Award, the Octave Chanute Award and the John J. Montgomery Award.

Armstrong's first tour of service to the Apollo program came as the commander of the back-up crew of the Apollo 8 mission, though he had been originally scheduled to back-up the Apollo 9 mission. (Had he remained as the Apollo 9 back-up commander he would have been slated to Command Apollo 12, not Apollo 11.)

Initially, it was planned that Buzz Aldrin, the Lunar Module Pilot would be the first to set foot on the Moon. However, it was determined that because of the positions of the astronauts in the module, it would require Aldrin to physically crawl over Armstrong to reach the hatch. As such, it was decided that it would be easier for Armstrong to exit the module first upon landing.

Apollo 11 touched down on the surface of the Moon on July 20, 1969, at which point Armstrong declared, "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed." A hugh sigh of relief was said to have been breathed throughout mission control, as it was thought that Armstrong had merely seconds of fuel remaining before the thrusters cut and the lander plummeted to the surface. Armstrong and Aldrin exchanged congratulations before quickly preparing the lander to launch off the surface in case of an emergency.

Man's Greatest Achievement

"Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed."

– Neil Armstrong

On July 20, 1969, Armstrong made his way down the ladder from the Lunar Lander and, upon reaching the bottom declared "I'm going to step off the LEM now." As his left boot made contact with the surface he then spoke the words that defined a generation, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

"My friend Neil took the small step but giant leap that changed the world and will forever be remembered as a landmark moment in human history."

– Buzz Aldrin

Interestingly, he meant to say "one small step for a man," referring to himself. Otherwise the phrase is actually contrary, since as stated man would imply mankind. Armstrong later was reported as saying that he hoped future quotations would include the "a" parenthetically. However, the phrase is still usually conveyed as he originally spoke it.

"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

– Neil Armstrong

About 15 minutes after exiting the module, Aldrin joined him on the surface and they set to investigating the environment on the lunar surface. They also planted the American flag on the surface. But because of a malfunction of the bottom extender of the flag, the flag appeared to be waving. This, of course, would be impossible since there is no air on the Moon. It was supposed to be repaired on a later mission, but because the astronauts liked the way it looked, it was kept in the same condition.

"It's a brilliant surface in that sunlight. The horizon seems quite close to you because the curvature is so much more pronounced than here on earth. It's an interesting place to be. I recommend it."

[Describing the moon.]

– Neil Armstrong

The final task carried out by Armstrong was to leave behind a package of memorial items in remembrance of deceased Soviet cosmonauts Yuri Gagarin and Vladimir Komarov, and Apollo 1 astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee. All told, Armstrong and Aldrin spent 2.5 hours on the lunar surface. Each of the subsequent landings allowed for more and more time on the surface, culminating in 21 hours of extra-vehicular time performed by the Apollo 17 astronauts.

The astronauts then returned to Earth, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean on July 24, 1969. Armstrong was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor bestowed upon civilians, as well as a host of other medals from NASA and other countries.

Life After Space

After a short stint as an administrator with NASA and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Armstrong accepted a teaching position at the University of Cincinnati with the department of Aerospace Engineering. He held this appointment until 1979. Armstrong also served on two investigation panels. The first was after the Apollo 13 incident, while the second came after the Challenger explosion.

Armstrong now lives a life outside the public eye. He stopped signing autographs more than a decade ago when he came to know that people were selling items baring his signature for thousands of dollars. There have also been issues with individuals selling forgeries. Armstrong will occasionally make public comments when asked about NASA and current policy. The most recent statement, in early 2010, was in staunch criticism of the President's plan to cancel the Constellation program.

Armstrong underwent bypass surgery on August 7, 2012, to relieve blocked coronary arteries.He died on August 25, in Cincinnati, Ohio, after complications resulting from the cardiovascular procedure. After his death, Armstrong was described, in a statement released by the White House, as "among the greatest of American heroes—not just of his time, but of all time". The statement further said that Armstrong had carried the aspirations of the United States' citizens and that he had delivered "a moment of human achievement that will never be forgotten."


Sources: Various random online and offline sources

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