“Besides being one of America’s greatest explorers, Neil carried himself with a grace and humility that was an example to us all,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “When President Kennedy challenged the nation to send a human to the moon, Neil Armstrong accepted without reservation.”
There was a personal side to Armstrong, of course, revealed skillfully in his official biography, First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong, written by James R. Hansen, the Auburn University historian. Then a budding test pilot at Edwards AFB, Calif., Armstrong struggled with the pain of his infant daughter’s death a few months before he applied to NASA’s astronaut corps in 1962 as well as a late-in-life divorce from his first wife and college sweetheart, Janet.
Armstrong was intensely private, comfortable to let the policy and decision makers in and outside of the space agency, the engineers as well as his fellow astronauts take or share the credit for the pioneering lunar explorations.
When summoned to the White House or asked to testify before Congress on the significance of human exploration, however, Armstrong didn’t hesitate to urge the nation on. But he shunned opportunities to profit from his accomplishments, even to sign autographs for those who sought to penetrate his privacy.
Armstrong launched into space only twice.
In March 1966, the former civilian X-15 test pilot and naval aviator commanded Gemini VIII with co-pilot David Scott. The two men achieved the world’s first docking of two spacecraft, a milestone fundamental to the more complex Apollo flights. After the linkup with the Agena target vehicle, the two spacecraft began to gyrate, an unexpected outcome later traced to a flight control system electrical short. Armstrong’s experienced hand delivered the two astronauts safely back to Earth after a greatly abbreviated flight.
Fourteen months before Apollo 11, he was forced to eject from a equally out of control lunar lander during a training exercise at what was then Ellington AFB, Texas, not far from NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. Barely airborne and alone, Armstrong ejected just high enough to parachute to a landing
Armstrong left the astronaut corps shortly after the eight day Apollo 11 flight, serving as NASA’s deputy associate administrator for aeronautics in Washington before returning to Ohio. There, he joined the University of Cincinnati as a professor of aerospace engineering from 1971 to 1979.
He was a graduate of Purdue University in aerospace engineering and earned a master’s degree in the field from the University of Southern California.
Armstrong flew 78 combat missions as a U. S. Navy aviator during the Korean War. He joined NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, as a research pilot at the Lewis Laboratory in Cleveland after the conflict and later transferred to NACA’s High Speed Flight Station at Edwards.