Neil Armstrong represents one of America's proudest moments in science. He was the first man to walk on the moon, a representative of the first and only country to accomplish this goal. As Armstrong stepped off the Eagle lunar module on July 20, 1969, he stated his now-famous words: "That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind."
Armstrong began life on a farm outside the small town of Wapakoneta, Ohio. For a time, his father's job as an auditor for the state of Ohio required that the family move every year, but they returned to Wapakoneta for Neil to finish high school. As a teenager he, built model airplanes and, at age sixteen he received his student pilot's license.
In 1947, Armstrong enrolled at Purdue University with the assistance of a U.S. Navy scholarship. A year-and-a-half later, however, the Navy called him to active duty. He was sent to Pensacola, Florida, where he trained to be a fighter pilot. When the Korean War broke out, Armstrong was sent overseas, where he flew several bombing missions. His tour of duty ended in the spring of 1952, after which he returned to Purdue. In January 1955, Armstrong graduated from Purdue with a bachelor's degree in aeronautical engineering.
Armstrong next moved to Cleveland and went to work for the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA), which later became the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Soon after, he was assigned to be an aeronautical research pilot at the NACA post at Edwards Air Force Base, California. In this capacity, Armstrong piloted jet and rocket planes on high-altitude test flights.
In 1962, when NASA selected its second group of astronauts, Armstrong became one of the first two civilians chosen for the program. After going through survival training, Armstrong was assigned to work on the Gemini program. He played support roles for three Gemini missions and commanded one his first of two spaceflights, Gemini 8.
Armstrong's first spaceflight in March 1966 nearly ended in disaster. The plan was for him to pilot a Gemini spacecraft into orbit and dock with an Agena target rocket. The exercise was designed to test procedures that would later be used on moon flights. The Gemini launch went successfully, and Armstrong docked the Gemini 8 with the Agena rocket. But the combined Gemini-Agena spacecraft then began to rumble end-over-end, out of control. Armstrong was able to break the Gemini free from the Agena, but the planned three-day exercise had to be aborted.
Armstrong Lands On the Moon
Armstrong was next assigned to the Apollo program. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy had set a national goal of landing a man on the moon by the end of the decade. The Apollo program was created to achieve this goal.
Armstrong was not initially not slated to command the prized Apollo 11 flight. Only due to scheduling changes did he end up on Apollo 11 along with crewmates Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins.
Apollo 11 lifted off on July 16, 1969. After a four-day journey, Armstrong and Aldrin climbed into the lunar module (a specially designed, removable section of the spacecraft) and descended to the moon's surface. Armstrong was first to set foot on lunar soil, followed by Aldrin. There they planted the American flag, had a telephone conversation with President Richard Nixon, set up science experiments, and collected rocks and soil samples. They left behind a plaque that read: "Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon, July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind."
The Apollo 11 flight to the moon, viewed by the largest international television audience to that time, is considered by many people to be one of the greatest scientific achievements of the modern world.
For Armstrong, this historic flight was followed by months of public appearances, after which he assumed an administrative post at NASA. Two years later, he retired from NASA to take a teaching position at the University of Cincinnati. Armstrong remained there until 1979, after which he went to work in private industry.
In the mid-1980s, Armstrong was recruited by NASA to serve on the National Commission on Space, whose task it was to develop goals for future space travel. In 1986, following the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, Armstrong was named vice-chair of the committee investigating the accident. He was awarded the Congressial Gold Medal in 2009.
Armstrong and his second wife, Carol, resided in Ohio until his death.