I can distinctly remember being woken up early one July morning in 1969 to watch the Moon landing. Within minutes, I was soon wearing my hand knitted jumper (thanks Mum), on which there was a rocket on the front with the word Apollo sewn on, running down its length.
In truth thinking back, the flickering images I observed on our old black and white telly could have been from anywhere and of course, there is now a school of thought that the whole thing actually took place in a film studio.
But for the purposes of this blog, lets put that conspiracy theory over there and accept that the space missions DID happen and eventually led to Neil Armstrong being the first man to step foot on to another planet.
As I wrote those words – ‘first man to step foot on to another planet’ – I had to stop and give the enormity of that statement some contemplation. In total Armstrong spent 8 days, 14 hours, 12 minutes and 30 seconds in space, but it was those few seconds when his boot touched the surface of The Moon, that changed Armstrong’s life forever. Over the forthcoming years, the resultant global fame was not something that always sat comfortably with him, but it was a situation he knew he had to get used to.
He entered this world on August 5th 1930 as Neil Alden Armstrong in Ohio. From an early age he had an early interest in flying and took his first flight aged just 6 with his father. He then learnt to fly during his high school years, in fact flying solo before he had gained his car drivers license.
He studied aeronautical engineering from the age of 17 at Purdue University and from 1949 he served as a US naval aviator. He then went on to fly jets in the Korean War from 1951, taking part in 78 missions in total, then returning to Purdue and his studies when his military service came to an end.
Next Armstrong became a test pilot stationed at Edwards Air Force Base from 1955. Over the years he would fly in over 200 different types of aircraft. He then joined NASA – National Aeronautics and Space Administration – from its inception in October 1958.
In the summer of 1962, he successfully applied to become a NASA astronaut for Project Gemini. In March 1966, he was aboard Gemini 8 as it launched into orbit. By this stage he was NASA’s highest paid astronaut on $21, 653 a year.
Then came Apollo 11. Its crew were Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin Eugene ‘Buzz’ Aldrin. It is said that Armstrong was chosen to be the first to walk on the moon, due to being the one most ‘lacking in ego.’
They launched on July 16th 1969, and during it, Armstrong’s heart rate peaked at 110 beats per minute. As the lunar module named ‘Eagle’ touched down, a code 1202 alarm sounded, though neither Aldrin or Armstrong knew what it meant!
They were quickly assured by ground control that it was in fact nothing to overly worry about.
Mission control: ‘We copy you down, Eagle.’
Armstrong: ‘Houston, Tranquillity Base here, The Eagle has landed.’
Mission Control: ‘Roger, Tranquillity. We copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a lot.’
Armstrong then left the module and made his way down the ladder on the surface of the Moon, uttering the immortal words ‘That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’ as he did so.
That footstep was said to have been witnessed by a TV audience of over 530 million people some 240, 000 miles away. Twenty minutes later, Aldrin joined him to become the second man on that surface. Whilst there, they planted a flag and took photographs including their own footprints during their two and half-hour stay.
Finally back in The Eagle, Armstrong and Aldrin then launched to re- join the command and service module, manned by Collins. Then all three astronauts safely returned to earth, landing in the Pacific Ocean west of Hawaii, to then be picked up by USS Hornet.
After an enforced 18-day quarantine, the crew went on a promotional tour named ‘Giant Leap’. They travelled the world, lauded and celebrated at every turn.
Armstrong left NASA in 1971, taking up a teaching role at the University of Cincinnati where he stayed till 1980. He then joined the boards of various businesses. In the 90s, he quietly withdrew from most public life, turning down many requests for interviews, preferring to work on his farm in Ohio. In some ways he remained a reluctant hero.
His 2005 authorised biography ‘First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong was made into the film ‘First Man’ starring Ryan Gosling which was released in late 2018.
In a rare interview late into his life, Armstrong said – ‘(The Moon) It’s a brilliant surface in that sunlight. The horizon seems quite close to you because the curvature is so much more pronounced than here on earth. It’s an interesting place to be. I recommend it.’
Neil Armstrong died in August 2012 aged 82.
I just wish I still had that Apollo jumper.
The Mumper of SE5