At around 02:56 UTC on Monday, July 21, 1969, astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man to be on the Moon as he stepped onto the Lunar surface with his left foot and uttered “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”. But it could’ve been quite different for Armstrong, the Commander of the Apollo 11 mission, astronaut Edwin “Buzz” E. Aldrin Jr., the Lunar Module Pilot, and Michael Collins, the Command Module Pilot. If it wasn’t for earlier technical issues in the Apollo program, another Apollo crew would have the honor of landing on the Moon.
Neil Alden Armstrong was born on August 5, 1930, in the small town of Wapakoneta, Ohio, to Stephen Koenig Armstrong, an auditor for the state government, and Viola Louise Engel, a homemaker. When the younger Armstrong was 6, his father flew with him in a Ford Trimotor airplane. It must have made a lasting impression on the youngster because by age 15, he already learned how to fly. Armstrong went on to Purdue University for an engineering degree, flew during the Korean War as a fighter pilot, and returned to Purdue with a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering. After a stint as a test pilot for the X-15, a rocket-powered aircraft, Armstrong became a candidate in the highly selective NASA astronauts program. During his first mission to space in Gemini 8, a docking procedure with a target vehicle went awry. Armstrong and fellow astronaut David R. Scott subsequently brought the spacecraft safely back to Earth though both never gotten the opportunity to perform an extra-vehicular activity (aka space walk). Armstrong would carry out his EVA later on the Moon.
Returned to Earth as a hero, the first man on the Moon never relished in his fame. Instead, the quiet and private Armstrong decided on a job at the University of Cincinnati as a professor of aeronautical engineering. Happy to be away from the spotlights, you could still sense the same childhood wonderment when he spoke of space exploration. Survived by his second wife, Carol, two sons, Eric, and Mark, from his first marriage, as well as numerous grandchildren, Neil Alden Armstrong passed away yesterday at the age of 82.
In their official statement, the Armstrong family stated “As much as Neil cherished his privacy, he always appreciated the expressions of good will from people around the world and from all walks of life.” It ended with “For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.”