Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon, died on Saturday. Armstrong, who earlier this month had surgery to relieve blocked coronary arteries, died aged 82.
Born in Wapakoneta, Ohio, on August 5, 1930, Neil served as a Naval Aviator from 1949 to 1953 before joining the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) in 1955. Over the next 17 years, he was an engineer, test pilot, astronaut and administrator for NACA and its successor agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
It was during his time at NASA that he will be most remembered for. Although Neil was a test pilot for a number of years, his life changed dramatically when President John F. Kennedy anounced in a dramatic speech in 1962 “We are going to the moon”. With these simple words, not only was a nation inspired, but the imagination for this endevour was felt around the world.
In 1966, Neil Armstrong achieved a boyhood dream when, on March 16, as command pilot, he launched into space on Gemini 8 and performed the first successful docking of two vehicles in space.
For the next three years, he and fellow crew mates Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin Jr. and Michael Collins, endured a vigourous and demanding training regime that would push both their bodies and mental abilities to the very limits. Every one knew what was at stake, both the prize and possibly the cost. For it was during this time that a fire broke out on Apollo 1 and the entire crew sadly lost their lives. Though this was one of the darkest days, Neil and crew continued on with professionalism rarely equaled.
On July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 and her crew, blasted off from Kennedy Space Centre on the most historic journey of the 20th Centuary, destination Moon. For the next three days the crew prepared for the landing that would be the pinnicle of man’s ambitions and achievement. On July 19, 1969, the lunar excursion module, deisgnated “Eagle”, landed on the surface. With the whole world watching via satelite television, Neil Armstrong climbed down the steps of the craft and uttered the simple but most poignant phrase, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Thanks to both Neil Armstrong and his co-pilot “Buzz” Aldrin, humans had finally conquered what theorists and visionaries had been dreaming of for centuaries, landing on the moon.
Upon the crews safe return to Earth, they received a welcome like no other before it. With ticket tape parades all over the major cities in USA, they toured all over the world, everyone hoping to capture a rare glimpse of the men and THE man who had walked on the moon.
Neil Armstrong continued to work at NASA for a number of years, where he held the position of Deputy Associate Administrator for Aeronautics, NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C. He continued his advancement in the scientific comunity where he became Professor of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Cincinnati, a Fellow of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots and the Royal Aeronautical Society; Honorary Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and the International Astronautics Federation to name but a few.
He had also received decorations from seventeen different countries; the recipient of many special honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom; the Congressional Space Medal of Honor; and in November 2011 he received the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest US civilian award.
Sadly, not everyone was impressed or inpsired by his achievements and his career and reputation was plagued by those who felt that he was nothing more than charlatan. It may have been becasue of this backlash by conspiracy theorists that Neil sadly avoided public life after his NASA days.
Conspiracies aside, there is no denying that today is indeed a sad day. The world has lost one of the last great pioneers, a visionary, a dreamer and most importantly, the man who really did what almost everyone though was impossible. For centuaries before, and the centuaries yet to pass, Neil Armstrong, First Man on the Moon, we salute your bravery and courage and we will never look at the moon and stars again without thinking of you.
August 5, 1930 – August 25, 2012.