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 aviator, test 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 fire while making a low bombing run, and 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 prevent 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 fiery 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 Collins remained in lunar orbit in the Command/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 Challenger disaster. He acted as a spokesman for several businesses, and appeared in advertising for the automotive brand Chrysler starting in January 1979.
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.
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. 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. 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 been circulating 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 publicly announced the selection of the second group at a press conference on September 17, 1962. Compared with the Mercury Seven astronauts, they were younger, and had more impressive academic credentials.
The official NASA flight plan called for a crew rest period before extravehicular activity, but Armstrong requested that the EVA be moved to earlier in the evening, Houston time. Once Armstrong and Aldrin were ready to go outside, Eagle was depressurized, the hatch was opened and Armstrong made his way down the ladder. At the bottom of the ladder Armstrong said, “I’m going to step off the LM now”. He turned and set his left boot on the lunar surface at 02:56 UTC July 21, 1969, then spoke the now-famous words, “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”
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, Armstrong 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 … Most people don’t realize how difficult the mission was. 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 stated that Neil had shown him a note with a draft of the line months before the launch. Historian Andrew Chaikin, who had interviewed Armstrong in 1988 for his book A Man on the Moon, disputed that Armstrong had ever claimed to have come up with the line spontaneously during the mission.
Recordings of Armstrong’s transmission do not evidence the indefinite article “a” before “man”, though NASA and Armstrong insisted for years that static had obscured it. Armstrong stated he would never make such a mistake, but after repeated listenings to recordings, he eventually conceded he must have dropped the “a”. He later said he “would hope that history would grant me leeway for dropping the syllable and understand that it was certainly intended, even if it was not said—although it might actually have been”. There have since been claims and counter-claims about whether acoustic analysis of the recording reveals the presence of the missing “a”; Peter Shann Ford, an Australian computer programmer, conducted a digital audio analysis and claims that Armstrong did say “a man”, but the “a” was inaudible due to the limitations of communications technology of the time. Ford and James R. Hansen, Armstrong’s authorized biographer, presented these findings to Armstrong and NASA representatives, who conducted their own analysis. Armstrong found Ford’s analysis “persuasive.” Linguists David Beaver and Mark Liberman wrote of their skepticism of Ford’s claims on the blog Language Log. A 2016 peer-reviewed study again concluded Armstrong had included the article. NASA’s transcript continues to show the “a” in parentheses. When Armstrong made his proclamation, Voice of America was rebroadcast live via the BBC and many other stations worldwide. The estimated global audience at that moment was 530 million, out of an estimated world population of 3.6 billion.
A grainy picture from behind of a human figure in white spacesuit and backpack standing in front of the Lunar Module on the surface of the Moon. A landing leg is visible and the U.S. flag on the descent stage.
About 20 minutes after the first step, Aldrin joined Armstrong on the surface and became the second human to set foot on the Moon, and the duo began their tasks of investigating how easily a person could operate on the lunar surface. Early on, Armstrong unveiled a plaque commemorating their flight, and also planted the flag of the United States. The flag used on this mission had a metal rod to hold it horizontal from its pole. Since the rod did not fully extend, and the flag was tightly folded and packed during the journey, the flag ended up with a slightly wavy appearance, as if there were a breeze. Shortly after their flag planting, President Richard Nixon spoke to them by a telephone call from his office. The President spoke for about a minute, after which Armstrong responded for about thirty seconds. In the Apollo 11 photographic record there are only five images of Armstrong partly shown or reflected. The mission was planned to the minute, with the majority of photographic tasks performed by Armstrong with the single Hasselblad camera.
After helping to set up the Early Apollo Scientific Experiment Package, Armstrong went for a walk to what is now known as East Crater, 65 yards (59 m) east of the LM, the greatest distance traveled from the LM on the mission. Armstrong’s 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 time spent on EVA during Apollo 11 was two and a half hours; each of the subsequent five landings was allotted a progressively longer period for EVA activities—the crew of Apollo 17 spent over 22 hours exploring the lunar surface. In a 2010 interview, Armstrong explained that NASA limited his Moon walk because they were unsure how the spacesuits would cope with the extremely high temperature on the Moon.
After they re-entered the LM, the hatch was closed and sealed. 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. The three astronauts returned to Earth and splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, to be picked up by the USS Hornet.
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 45-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. Armstrong was the first westerner to see the supersonic Tupolev Tu-144 and was given a tour of the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center, which he described as “a bit Victorian in nature”. At the end of the day, he was surprised to view delayed video of the launch of Soyuz 9—it had not occurred to Armstrong that the mission was taking place, even though Valentina Tereshkova had been his host and her husband, Andriyan Nikolayev, was on board.
Armstrong received many honors and awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Nixon, the Cullum Geographical Medal from the American Geographical Society, and the Collier Trophy from the National Aeronautic Association, all in 1969, the NASA Distinguished Service Medal in 1970, the Dr. Robert H. Goddard Memorial Trophy in 1970, the Sylvanus Thayer Award by the United States Military Academy in 1971, the Congressional Space Medal of Honor from President Jimmy Carter in 1978, the Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy from the National Aeronautic Association in 2001, and a Congressional Gold Medal in 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. Eisenhower on March 10, 2010, in a ceremony attended by Lovell and Cernan.
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 in his honor in the United States, and many places around the world have streets, buildings, schools, and other places named for Armstrong 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 when he was fifteen, are named after him. Purdue University announced in October 2004 that its new engineering building would be named Neil Armstrong Hall of Engineering in his honor; 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.
The astronauts are all elderly but standing straight. Aldrin wears a dark suit, Collins a dark sportcoat and gray pants, and Armstrong a beige suit. The President is at the right. He wears a dark suit. He has medium-dark skin and is talking to Armstrong and raising his left hand. Armstrong is smiling.
In September 2012, the U.S. Navy announced that the first Armstrong-class vessel would be named RV Neil Armstrong. The ship was delivered to the Navy on September 23, 2015. It is a modern oceanographic research platform capable of supporting a wide range of oceanographic research activities conducted by academic groups.
Armstrong’s authorized biography, First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong, was published in 2005. For many years, Armstrong turned down biography offers from authors such as Stephen Ambrose and James A. Michener, but agreed to work with James R. Hansen after reading one of Hansen’s other biographies. A film adaptation of the book starring Ryan Gosling and directed by Damien Chazelle is scheduled to be released in October 2018.
In a 2010 Space Foundation survey, Armstrong was ranked as the #1 most popular space hero, and in 2013, Flying magazine ranked him at #1 on its list of the “51 Heroes of Aviation”. The press often asked Armstrong for his views on the future of spaceflight. In 2005, Armstrong said that a manned mission to Mars will be easier than the lunar challenge of the 1960s. In 2010, he made a rare public criticism of the decision to cancel the Ares I launch vehicle and the Constellation Moon landing program.
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 had also publicly recalled his initial concerns about the Apollo 11 mission, when 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 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.