July 20 marks 44 years since Neil Armstrong took his famous "small step" onto the surface of the Moon. Humanity's brave lunar pioneer has since passed on, leaving the memory of an extraordinarily skilled test pilot and a truly humble personality.
To mark the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11, Armstrong penned a few words on what that historic feat meant to him. His brief memoir, published on that date in Aviation Week & Space Technology, illustrates just what kind of person the first man on the Moon was. Click here to read his Viewpoint.
Nowhere does he refer to his own accomplishments, except briefly at the end. Instead, he goes on at length about the skills and experience of the other eight astronauts in his class - the "nearly normal nine" -- and the army of scientists, engineers and technicians who made his trip possible.
He also reveals a touch of the poet, referring to the nine's arrival in Houston "in September, the sultry yellow month." That follows the way with words he displayed in his rare public appearances, when he would delight his audience with a succinct message delivered with a little humor and an aw-shucks manner that wasn't an act.
While Armstrong took dozens of photos of his Eagle lunar-lander crewmate Buzz Aldrin outside on the surface of the Moon, there is only one of "the first man" -- an accidental grab shot of him collecting a tool in a shot of the overall "Tranquility Base."
But Aldrin got an image of his commander inside the lander shortly after touchdown that epitomizes Armstrong's personality and spirit -- glassy eyed with fatigue, not triumphant or grandiose, but clearly satisfied.
Armstrong's text was a little long for the space available in the magazine to display it, so Executive Editor Jim Asker nervously tackled the job of cutting it down. After the anniversary hubub died down a week or so later, Jim was surprised and pleased to receive an e-mail from Armstrong thanking him for doing such a good job of editing.
Now, editors don't get fan mail from writers very often. That Armstrong took the time to send it is yet another illustration of how well suited he was to represent humanity in one of its finest moments.