Neil Armstrong – Biography, Moon Landing & Other Major Accomplishments
On July 20, 1969, American astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot and walk on the Moon. It was there that he made one of the world’s most famous quotes, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Considered by many to be the foremost American in space exploration, the astronaut’s life story is one of such immense importance for the worlds of astronomy and space technology that it begins to blend science fiction and reality—and his achievements reflect it.
Below WHE transports you to the rich and captivating history of the first man to make contact with the surface of the moon.
Armstrong grew up in Wapakoneta, Ohio and was the eldest of three children to Stephen Koenig Armstrong and Louise Engel.
He developed his passion for aviation when he embarked on his first plane ride at six years old. As a young boy, Armstrong was also a member of the Boy Scouts of America and earned the highest rank, the Eagle Scout. By 16, he was a licensed pilot and became a naval air cadet.
While pursuing a degree in aeronautical engineering at Purdue University, he enlisted in the military and served in the Korean War, where he was awarded three Air Medals.
After completing his degree in 1955, he became a research pilot, first at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) and then as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The following year, he married Janet Shearon and welcomed their son Eric in 1957 and their daughter, Karen in 1959. Unfortunately, Karen passed away from a brain tumor in 1962. Later in 1962, Armstrong joined NASA’s space program.
The Moon Landing
In 1969, along with his crewmates Edwin Aldrin and Michael Collins, Armstrong was sent to Moon under the Apollo 11 mission. He was responsible for landing safely on the moon with Aldrin, whereas Collins remained in the command module.
As they approached the Moon, Armstrong took over the landing when he noticed that they were being directed to land in a landing zone filled with boulders. The pair successfully landed on the moon, with just 25 second of fuel left.
Armstrong was the first to step on the Moon at 10:56 p.m. (EDT) and together with Aldrin, the pair explored the surface for 2 hours and 36 minutes. They collected about 50 moon rocks, as well other materials found on the Moon. They also famously planted the US flag and also communicated via telephone with the then-US president Richard Nixon. The two astronauts also left items on the moon to Soviet astronauts to show the US’s victory in the space race.
The team lifted off the following day and made the journey back to earth, three days later on July 24. They were initially quarantined for 18 days to ensure that they hadn’t been infected with any diseases from the Moon before going on a world tour to celebrate their successful mission. The 38-day tour, which was dubbed the “Giant Leap” tour, included many activities such as partaking in parades across major US cities, attending a state dinner.
Armstrong and his crewmates received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969 from President Richard Nixon. Along with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Medal ranks as the highest honor a civilian can receive in the United States.
Life After the Moon Landing
Armstrong decided not to fly to space again after the Moon landing. Shortly after the event, he was made Deputy Associate Administrator for Aeronautics at the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), where he served for a year before resigning from both ARPA and NASA.
He started teaching and accepted a position in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Cincinnati. He taught several core classes and was responsible for the creation of two classes at the graduate level. Armstrong developed a reputation for being a good teacher and a firm grader. He resigned from his teaching position after 8 years in 1980, opting to go part-time.
Despite having left NASA shortly after the Moon landing, Armstrong still served on several commissions and projects. In 1970, he was a member of a commission that investigated the explosion aboard Apollo 13.
In 1986, he was appointed buy US President Ronald Reagan to serve on the Rogers Commission as vice chairman to investigate the destruction of the “Challenger”, which was a space shuttle. He played an important role in limiting the number of recommendations made by the commission, believing that NASA wouldn’t act on them if there were too many.
He was also invited by President George W. Bush to attend the memorial service for those who lost their lives in the 2003 “Columbia” space shuttle disaster.
Armstrong pursued other business interests when he retired from NASA in 1971. In 1979, he worked with the automobile company, Chrysler, appearing in the company’s commercials. He was also the spokesperson for other companies, including the Bankers Association of America and the General Time Corporation.
The former astronaut held other board roles in various companies such as Gates Learjet, the Cincinnati Gas & Electric Company, Taft Broadcasting, and United Airlines.
In the early 1990s, Armstrong hosted “First Flights with Neil Armstrong”, which was a documentary on aviation history. In 2010, he loaned his voice to the character Dr. Jack Marrow in the animation movie “Quantum Quest: A Cassini Space Odyssey.”
Personal Life and Death
Armstrong lived a relatively quiet life outside of the public in his later years. He spent his time traveling and flying aircraft for pleasure.
The astronaut married Janet Elizabeth Shearon, who was a home economics major in Purdue, on January 28, 1956. The marriage, which took place in Wilmette, Illinois, produced three children – Eric, Karen, and Mark. In 1994, his marriage to his first wife Janet ended. That same year, he remarried, his second wife Carol Held Knight.
In 2012, he had surgery for coronary artery disease. Sadly, the famed astronaut died due to complications from the surgery at the age of 82. A tribute was held for him at the Washington National Cathedral, which had a Space Window depicting Armstrong’s Apollo 11 mission.
Legacy and Notable Achievements
The third man to walk on the moon, Pete Conrad referenced Armstrong when he made his first step. Conrad, who was shorter than Armstrong, said “Whoopie! Man, that may have been a small one for Neil, but that’s a long one for me.”
Armstrong was the recipient of several awards and honors during his lifetime. Apart from receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Space Medal of Honor from Presidents Nixon and Jimmy Carter respectively, the American Geographical Society also awarded him with the Cullum Geographical Medal.
In 1969, he received the Collier Trophy from the National Aeronautic Association (NAA), as well as the NASA Distinguished Service Medal. Two years later, the US Military Academy rewarded him with the Sylvanus Thayer Award.
One year before his death, he received the Congressional Gold Medal. In 2013, he posthumously received the 2013 General James E. Hill Lifetime Space Achievement Award.
The asteroid 6469 Armstrong, as well as the lunar crater Armstrong were named after him. The Armstrong Air and Space Museum in his hometown of Wapakoneta was named in his honor, as well as the Neil Armstrong Airport in Ohio. In chemistry, the mineral armstrongite was also named after him.
His alma mater, Purdue University named its new engineering block the Neil Armstrong Hall of Engineering. Armstrong attended the building’s dedication in 2007 along with other astronauts who studied at the university.
In 2014, the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center was renamed NASA Neil A. Armstrong Flight Research Center.
In 2005, Armstrong authorized the publication of his biography “First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong.” The book was later adapted for film and starred famous Hollywood actor, Ryan Gosling.
In a 2010 “Space Foundation” survey, Armstrong ranked #1 in the “most popular space hero” section. He was also at the top of the list in “Flying” magazine’s 51 Heroes of Aviation.
Other Accomplishments of Neil Armstrong
- He was the Deputy Associate Administrator for Aeronautics for the Office of Advanced Research and Technology at ARPA. He stayed in the position for a year before he resigned from NASA in 1971 to take up a teaching job at the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Cincinnati.
- Neil Armstrong was a member of the Edgar Cortright’s Investigation of the Apollo 13 aborted lunar landing.
- In 2013, he received the General James E. Hill Lifetime Space Achievement Award.
- In 2001, he also joined the American Philosophical Society.
- Armstrong was inducted into a number of halls of fame, including the Aerospace Walk of Honor, the National Academy of Engineering, the United States Astronaut Hall of Fame, and the International Space Hall of Fame