Monday, October 07, 2013

Neil A. Armstrong (1930-2012)

The first man to walk on another world no longer walks on planet Earth.  Neil Armstrong passed away on August 25, 2012.  It's easy to recite the list of his accomplishments.  They are spectacular even if he hadn't happened to have commanded the very first attempt to land on the Moon.  Born in Wapakoneta, Ohio on August 5, 1930.  Korean war veteran of 78 combat missions while in the Navy.  B.S. in Aeronautical Engineering from Purdue, 1955.  Joined NACA (NASA's predecessor) as a civilian test pilot and flew the X-15.  Selected in the 2nd group of NASA astronauts in 1962.  Flew Gemini 8 in 1965 and made the first docking of two spacecraft in Earth orbit before saving the spacecraft and his and Dave Scott's lives using emergency procedures when a stuck thruster spun up their Gemini spacecraft to near fatal rates.  Commanded Apollo 11. Became a professor of Aeronautical Engineering at the University of Cincinnati.  Served on the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident in 1986.  Oh, and did I mention that he happened to be the first human to walk on another world during that Apollo 11 mission?

Neil Armstrong was one of my childhood heroes.  He was a lot of kids childhood hero and I bet also one of a lot of adults hero as well.  This young and impressionable young future scientist was fascinated by all things space.  I drew rocket ships and astronauts along with fire engines and ships.  Superman had nothing on John Glenn and the rest of the astronauts!  I remember watching the landing on that Sunday afternoon in July 1969, not understanding much of what the words from Houston and from the Moon really meant.  I didn't understand the significance of 1201 and 1202 alarms.  But I did understand when Armstrong announced that "The Eagle has landed".  We were all excited about the upcoming moonwalk that evening.  I remember going outside and looking up at the nearly first quarter Moon in the early evening sky and recognizing that there were 2 men actually on that object so far away up in the sky!  It was the first of many times since then that I'd look at the Moon or later at SkyLab and more recently at Space Shuttles and Space Stations overhead knowing that there were humans on that light in the sky and thinking about the significance of that!

That night I got to stay up late for about the first time.  We sat in front of our B&W Zenith TV and watched the network coverage (probably NBC) as we all awaited the moonwalk.  And then we watched as a fuzzy image appeared on our screen and then a ghostly image that looked human in shape appeared and descended the ladder.  And finally "That's one small step..."  If I hadn't been hooked on space before that moment, I sure was after it!

Neil Armstrong has now passed into the Hall of the Ages, along with so many others who will be known when future generations talk about history.  Along side the Wright Brothers, Charles Lindbergh, John Glenn.  Along with Sir Edmund Hillary, Amundsen, Columbus and Magellan  Along with John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington.  Along with Albert Einstein, Sir Isaac Newton, and Aristotle.  He can no longer speak for himself but his actions will speak well of him for a long time to come.  Thanks for inspiring so many of us Mr. Armstrong!