Sad to report on the passing of legendary Astronaut Neil Armstrong at the age of 82. While he was best known for being the first human to set foot on the Moon during Apollo 11, his career is the stuff of legends. I want to stop and take a look at the career of the person who took those first steps on another part of the Solar System.
Born in Wapakoneta, Ohio in 1930, Neil began his career of service in 1949 as a Naval Aviator and later joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the predecessor to NASA. Working as a test pilot, Armstrong piloted many amazing and challenging aircraft, such as the X-15. Neil followed the transition from the NACA to NASA and became a civilian Astronaut in 1962 having retired from the Navy in 1960.
Neil’s first flew into space as the command pilot of Gemini VIII. That Gemini mission marked the first docking of two spacecraft in orbit when Neil, along with Dave Scott, docked the Gemini spacecraft to an Agena target craft. Shortly after docking, the whole Gemini-Agena linked structure started spinning. Based on guidance from Mission Control, they disconnected from the Agena only to have the problem, ultimately, become much worse. The crew was able to determine that it was a stuck thruster on their spacecraft. Acting quickly as their spin approached 60 RPM, Armstrong activated the Reentry Control System and solved the problem, though that move forced an emergency landing. Neil’s cool head, quick thinking, and leadership saved their lives and brought them home safely.
Armstrong’s second mission into space was as the commander of the Apollo 11 mission. I think very little needs to be said about the mission itself that our readers don’t already know. The mission is a major marker in the history of the world and well covered in geek culture and popular culture. Although, I have to say, my favorite reference in recent days was on Doctor Who. The Doctor is asked if Apollo 11 is his secret weapon only to reply, “No no. It’s not Apollo Eleven. That would be silly. It’s Neil Armstrong’s foot.”
After Apollo 11, Armstrong led a very private life. He worked as the lead for NASA aeronautics research for a couple years and was a Professor of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Cincinnati for much of the 1970s. He has been decorated many times in many countries the world over and has a number of honorary doctoral degrees. Everything about Neil Armstrong brings to mind honor. He didn’t want the spotlight or the glory. He wanted to do a good job but his ability to go to work and do a good job is an understatement. There are not many people in history that can go to work and inspire the whole world.
Many words will be written about Neil Armstrong in the coming days and his place in history is sealed. Thank you, Mr. Armstrong for your service, your honor, and for having a really great day at work.