Neil Armstrong earned his place in history as the first man to walk on an extraterrestrial body, the Moon, on July 20, 1969. Knowing the historical significance of that first step, Armstrong did not take his first words lightly and spent some time thinking about what he would say. When the time came he was ready and spoke the immortal line, “That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.”
(Unfortunately, the radio transmitters of the day, not being what they are today, the a’ was lost in transmission and his words didn’t make sense, grammatically speaking. Personally I’ve long felt that even if he hadn’t spoken that a’ he should have been given credit for it anyway. It was after all what he meant to say and thought he said… and he was talking from the Moon, for crying out loud!)
His life did not begin nor end with the moon mission, however. He was born Neil Alden Armstrong on August 5, 1930 in Wapakoneta, Ohio and was the first child of Stephen and Viola Armstrong. He spent the first 15 years of his life moving from town to town as his father, a state employee, was constantly being transferred. The family’s last move brought him back to the town of his birth in 1944. He had developed a love of flying at age six and that was to be the guiding light of his life.
He began studying Aeronautical engineering at Purdue University in 1947 but his studies were interrupted in 149 when he was called up for service in the United States Navy. His love of flying came into play and he became a Navy pilot. In 1950 he was ordered to Korea to serve aboard an aircraft carrier. During the conflict he flew a total of 78 missions in Panther jets. He returned to Perdue University in 1952 and graduated in 1955. While attending Perdue he met his future wife, Janet Elizabeth Shearon and they were married January 28, 1956. They had three children, Eric, Karen and Mark. On a tragic note, Karen developed cancer on her brain stem and died on January 28, 1962, the Armstrong’s wedding anniversary.
After graduation he applied for and received a position as a civilian test pilot and was involved with the X-15 project. He flew seven missions in the X-15 project and reached an altitude of 207,500 feet and speeds up to 3,989 mph. During the seven years he was with the Flight Research Center he flew over 50 different aircraft for a total of 2,450 flying hours.
He was, needless to say, well prepared for work at NASA and was accepted into the ranks of the astronaut corps on September 13, 1962 where he joined the Gemini and Apollo projects. He was directly involved in the following missions:
Mission Name (Launch Date) role in the mission
Gemini 5 (Aug. 21, 1965) back up Command Pilot
Gemini 8 (Mar. 16, 1966) Command Pilot achieved the first docking in orbit craft started to spin out of control leading to an early end to the mission
Gemini 11 (Sept. 12, 1966) back up Command Pilot – served as CapCom
Apollo 8 (1967) assigned to back up crew
Apollo 11 (July 16, 1969) Commander – took the first stroll outside after landing on the Moon
Armstrong left the space program in 1970 and went back to school. He earned his Master’s degree in Aerospace engineering at the University of Southern California. He taught at The University of Cincinnati in Ohio from 1971 to 1979. He has served on the boards of directors of various companies but his expertise in aerospace engineering keeps coming back. He has served on two commissions investigating accidents in space. He was involved in the investigation of the Apollo 13 accident and served as Vice-Chairman of the Rogers Commission that investigated the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.
Neil Armstrong stopped signing autographs for people in 1994 when he discovered that authentic and forged signatures were selling on auction sites such as EBay for up to $5000. He also sued Hallmark cards for the unauthorized use of his name and voice (which they settled out of court) and he sued his barber of 20 years. The barber had saved his hair clippings and sold them to a rabid fan for $3,000 without Armstrong’s knowledge or consent. Armstrong offered a settlement to the barber whereby he either returned the hair clippings or gave the proceeds to a charity of Armstrong’s choosing. There was a charity made very happy because the barber was unable to retrieve the hair.