Apollo 11

Apollo 11 landed on the moon on July 20, 1969 with a three-man crew.  Neil Armstrong was the Apollo 11 Commander.  Edwin (Buzz) Aldrin was the Lunar Module Pilot.  Michael Collins was the Command Module Pilot.


Apollo 11 CrewCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                                               Apollo 11 Crew - Wikimedia

 The Apollo 11 Command Module was named “Columbia.”  The three men set up living quarters in Columbia for most of the lunar landing mission.  The Command Module was the only part of the spacecraft that returned to Earth, piloted by Michael Collins.  Collins is the only one of the three astronauts that did not set foot on the moon; he remained with Columbia.  A second section of the spacecraft was the Service Module which contained the propulsion system, electrical power, and consumables.  The Lunar Module, known as the “Eagle,” was big enough for two men, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, to descend to the moon’s surface.  The Command module remained in space while the Lunar module made the landing. Both the Lunar Module and the Service Module were cast off and allowed to burn up in the atmosphere before the Command Module re-entered the atmosphere and carried the three men back to earth.

Commander Neil Armstrong became the first human being to set foot on the moon, in an area known as the Sea of Tranquility.  The words he spoke as his feet landed have gone down in history - “One small step for a man; one giant leap for mankind.”  He was thirty-eight years old at the time.


Neil ArmstrongCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                                           Neil Armstrong - Wikimedia

Nova Interviews

Nova interviewed numerous friends and relatives of Neil Armstrong to jog their memories of Neil, and to contribute their personal knowledge of the sequence of events which led to the historic moon landing in 1969.  In addition to the input of Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, we heard from Neil’s siblings, Dean and June; his mother Jane; his children, Rick and Mark; his childhood friend Kotcho Solacoff, along with many others.

Neil Armstrong was born on August 5, 1930.  His love for flying began when his father and he took a ride in a plane when Neil was eight years old.  He then began his hobby of putting together dozens of model air planes.  He was 15 years old when he learned to fly, obtaining a pilot’s license before he had his driver’s license.  Michael Collins related that, as a youngster, Neil built a wind tunnel.  His sister June recalls that the house shook when Neil experimented with it in the basement.


Apollo 11 Crew with Barack ObamaCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                       Apollo 11 Crew with President Barack Obama - Wikimedia

The Korean War

At Purdue University in Indiana, Neil’s major was Aeronautical Engineering.  That is, until the beginning of the Korean War when Neil joined the Naval Air Squadron at the age of 20.  He was assigned to Carrier flying, the most challenging job in flying, which consisted of dive bombing to blow up bridges and railroads.  He never showed any fear even though he had many close calls.  The Korean War served to sharpen his already exceptional aviation skills.

He returned to Purdue after the Korean War and found a wife there, Janet Shearon.  He never asked her out until he graduated.  They were married in 1956, and had three children, Rick, Karen, and Mark.  Karen died of a brain tumor when she was three years old.

Test Pilot of X-15

Neil was hired as a test pilot at Edwards Air Force Base in California, and tested 17 types of exotic aircraft, one of which was the rocket-powered X-15.  It was half plane and half spacecraft, and was more than six times faster than sound.  It was the fastest plane ever flown.  A pilot was held in the highest esteem if he flew an X-15.  Neil relates one occasion when he found that he was outside the atmosphere at a mile a second, and was unable to keep control.  He could not get back down into the atmosphere.  He figured if he waited until he had aerodynamic control, it would happen.  He was right.

Project Mercury in 1962 was America’s first manned Space Program after the first seven Astronauts had been chosen.  Neil Armstrong had just the right set of skills when NASA was recruiting their second group of astronauts to train for a moon shot.  He was part of the second group of astronauts that were chosen.   


Buzz AldrinCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                                                 Buzz Aldrin - Wikimedia                

Commander of Gemini 8

Following his training, Neil was chosen as commander of Gemini 8 in 1966.  David Scott was the other half of the two-person crew. Their mission was to dock two vehicles in space.  The Agena, without a crew, was launched so the Gemini could practice docking with it. The docking was successful but something was wrong; they were tilted when they were supposed to be straight.  The Gemini started spinning, and the mission had to be ended. They were able to bring the Gemini back to Earth safely, landing in the China Sea.  David Scott related in his interview that Neil knew the system so well; he knew which switches to throw.  He used the re-entry to counteract the tumbling.  “It was my lucky day to be flying with Neil,” he said.  They were close to losing their lives.

Out of 29 astronauts that trained for the Apollo mission to the moon, only three were chosen.  After Apollo 7, 8 and 9 were launched, Neil was placed in line to be on Apollo 11, the mission that would put a man on the moon. 

The Moon Landing

On July 20, 1969, as their Lunar Module was about to land, the Apollo 11 crew was concerned about the fact that they had only 30 seconds of fuel left.  An alarm had gone off, but Mission Control learned in 23 seconds that it was a computer glitch.  Apollo 11 was able to report “The Eagle Has Landed.”  Six hours later, Neil Armstrong left the Lunar Module to be the first man in history to set foot on the moon.

Upon their return to the United States, after a period in isolation, the three celebrated Astronauts visited New York, Chicago and Los Angeles all in one day.  Following that, they traveled to 23 countries in 45 days.  Everyone wanted to shake their hand and have a picture taken with them.  It was the beginning of an intrusion into their personal life.     


Michael CollinsCredit: Wikimedia Collins

                                                            Michael Collins - Wikimedia 

Away from the Spotlight

Neil Armstrong resigned from NASA in 1971, and obtained a professorship at the University of Cincinnati.  He and Janet bought a secluded farm in Ohio.  He was able to find refuge from the constant spotlight.  He was a modest man who chose to lead a quiet, private life, and uncomfortable with the notoriety surrounding his extraordinary achievement.

Neil was admitted to the hospital on August 7, 2012, and passed away on August 25, 2012, following complications resulting from cardiovascular surgery.  He was 82 years old.

Neil Armstrong: A Life of Flight
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