Neil Armstrong

August 5, 1930 -

Neil Armstrong was born on August 5, 1930 on his grandfatherís farm near Wapakoneta, Ohio. As a young boy Armstrong was interested in planes. He began building model planes after he took his first plane ride at six years of age. As a child Armstrong was a good reader and a bright student. He did so well in school that he skipped the second grade. He also built a wind tunnel in the basement of his parentsí house and by age 15 he began taking flying lessons. On Armstrongís 16th birthday he received his student pilotís license, giving him the license to fly a plane before he received his license to drive a car.

Armstrong was awarded a scholarship from the United States Navy to attend Purdue University. After two years in college he was ordered to Pensacola, Florida for flight training. In 1950 when the Korean War began the navy sent Armstrong to fight in Korea. During the war, Armstrong flew 78 combat missions and was honored with 3 air medals.

In 1952 Armstrong left the navy and returned to Purdue University to finish his degree in flight engineering. After earning his degree he worked at the Edwards Air Force Base in California. There he flew some of the first planes designed to fly to the edges of the earthís atmosphere. He flew the x-15 to speeds of 4,000 miles per hour and as high as 40 miles. At that height the Armstrong could see the spherical shape of the earth.

In 1958 the United States government created NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Armstrong worked as a NASA test pilot. During this time he applied for the astronaut program. His application was accepted in 1962 making him the first civilian to ever be admitted into the astronaut program. To complete his training Armstrong, along with his wife and children, moved to El Lago, Texas near the NASA Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston.

Armstrong performed his first mission as an astronaut in March of 1966. He was assigned commander of the Gemini 8 for the first docking in space. Along with his crewman David R. Scott he docked the Gemini 8 into the docking collar of an unmanned spacecraft already in orbit. After docking, however, both crafts began to spin. Armstrong detached the Gemini 8 and steadied it. The other craft was lost into space, but Armstrong and Scott made a safe splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

On January 9, 1969 NASA announced the crew for the Apollo 11 space craft, the first planned moon landing. The pilots were Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr. and Michael Colins. Armstrong was selected as commander. On July 16, 1969 Armstrong and his crew lifted off in Apollo 11 headed for the moon. It was a four day flight to the moon.

Armstrong and Aldrin were the two astronauts to fly the Eagle, or moon lander, to the moon. Colins stayed in Apollo 11 to await their return. As the Eagle landed, Armstrong took the controls from the computer to land the Eagle safely. The scheduled landing site was too rocky for a safe landing. On July 20, 1969 Armstrong landed the Eagle and after preparing the craft for an emergency takeoff he was the first man to step on the moon. As he did so, he said his now famous words, "Thatís one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."

The two astronauts explored the moon after their landing. Their explorations included planting an American flag, setting up TV cameras, taking photographs, gathering moon rocks, and performing several experiments. The next morning they left the moon, and on July 24 they returned in the Columbia to earth, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean. Afterwards they remained in isolation for 18 days to ensure they had not brought an unknown threat back to Earth.

In 1971 Armstrong resigned from NASA. He worked as an instructor in aeronautical engineering at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio until 1979. Armstrong then worked for a variety of companies in different positions retiring after his service on a government panel in 1986 established to investigate the Challenger disaster, which killed seven astronauts.

Armstrongís last public appearances were made in 1994 at the 25th anniversary of his historic flight in the Apollo 11.


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To find out more about space and astronauts take a look at our Night Sky Watching page and our biographies of Ellen Ochoa and Sally Ride.


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