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Obama, John Glenn Honor Armstrong

Obama, John Glenn Honor Armstrong NASA / AP Photo

Astronaut died Saturday, age 82.

The first man on the moon received tributes Sunday from the president and fellow space pioneers Buzz Aldrin, John Glenn, and Michael Collins. “Neil was among the greatest of American heroes—not just of his time, but of all time,” Obama said. “When he and his fellow crew members lifted off aboard Apollo 11 in 1969, they carried with them the aspirations of an entire nation.” Glenn echoed the president’s sentiments, saying, “When I think of Neil, I think of someone who for our country was dedicated enough to dare greatly.”

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The Secret Lives of Astronauts

Neil Armstrong and his fellow astronauts were the stars of the Sixties, but it wasn’t always a smooth ride for their wives, writes Lily Koppel.

The first human to set foot on the moon lived a long, thoughtful, and adventuresome life, dying last Saturday at age 82, following complications from heart surgery. But what was in Neil Armstrong’s heart? Will we ever know?


Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins greet their wives from a quarantine facility on the USS Hornet aircraft carrier after their mission to the moon. (Science & Society Picture Library / Getty Images)

He was said to have gone around with a twinkle of a smile, as if he were always sharing a private joke with himself. But he was also taciturn, rarely betraying his inner thoughts, his friends have said. For the past two years, I have been talking to the wives of astronauts such as Neil for a book—a close-knit community of women who lived together in the Houston suburbs outside of NASA, back when the space program was ramping up in the Sixties and the astronauts were the rock stars of their day. Journalists called their neighborhood “Togethersville,” a place where the astronaut families helped raise each other’s children and supported each other through triumph and tragedy. The astronaut wives describe Neil as the handsome, quiet guy—the laid-back, but mysterious, almost mystic, astronaut.

In the mornings, I’m told, he just grabbed a cup of coffee in his Japanese-inspired house with the rock-and-ivy Zen garden he’d built himself, before heading off to work. Neil was not a big breakfast eater—or a big exercise man. He stood out in the neighborhood full of workout-obsessed astronauts, up at the crack of dawn, jogging around the suburban streets, decked out in sweat clothes. Neil wasn’t into running around in circles in a suburban maze. As he once told a friend, “I believe that every human has a finite number of heartbeats. I don’t intend to waste any of mine running around doing exercises.”

His wife, Janet, put up a front that was even harder to penetrate than her husband’s in those days, the other wives have told me. A dark-eyed looker with cropped silver-sprinkled brown hair that she wore short in a “swimmer’s cut” for ease, Jan seemed to have absorbed the stoicism of the spacemen around her. The other wives gathered that communication between the Armstrongs was not always flowing like a Zen fountain, but that Jan, although she would never gush, absolutely adored Neil. She was a bit in awe of him. She believed in the important work he was doing. She loved the fact that he could come home and explain complicated space maneuvers to her and her two sons.

“I’m not married to ‘an astronaut,’” she said to Life magazine in the months leading up to her husband's Apollo 11 moon landing in July 1969. “I’m married to Neil Armstrong. I knew he wanted to go to the moon, somehow, some way, when I married him. Knowing this hasn’t changed my life. To me he will always be Neil Armstrong, husband, father of two boys.”  

Listen to the music Neil Armstrong took with him on his trip to the moon:


Thank You, Neil

The first man to set foot on the moon inspired Jim Montgomery to pursue a career in space exploration. Now, weeks after he helped to successfully land Curiosity on Mars, the NASA engineer pays tribute to his hero.

Neil Armstrong will always be remembered as the man who inspired a generation of kids to reach for the stars. I am one of those kids, a child of the Apollo era. I was 5 years old when he took that small step for all of us back on Earth and profoundly changed the course of my life.


Neil Armstrong, U.S. civilian astronaut, 1969, became the first man to walk on the moon as flight commander of Apollo 11 space mission, July 1969. (NASA / HO / AP Photo)

Growing up in the small town of South Haven, Mich., the Apollo moon missions captured my young imagination and, like so many children, inspired me to pursue a career in space exploration. Out of 7 billion people on this planet, I am one of the fortunate few who gets to explore the wider universe, and I owe this privilege largely to Armstrong.

Today, I work as an engineer for the Mars Science Laboratory team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and earlier this month helped to land the interplanetary rover Curiosity on Mars. I’m now part of the team that operates her on the planet’s surface, and was doing so when I heard the news that Armstrong passed away. It will forever be my John F. Kennedy moment, a “where were you when” event.

As many have pointed out over the past few days, one of Armstrong’s most striking traits was his modesty; his total devotion to something greater than ourselves and his talent for directing attention away from himself and toward his team. I believe that this spirit of teamwork is something encoded into the DNA of those who work in space exploration, set by Armstrong’s example in the earliest days of the space program. Successfully landing Curiosity on Mars was a worldwide team effort, binding us all together as humans engaged in expanding our knowledge of the universe.

For the remainder of my life, I will always think of Armstrong when I look at the moon. But instead of feeling sad that he is no longer here with us on Earth, I will try to do as the Armstrong family suggested in their statement about his death: “For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.”

I can think of no more fitting tribute to Armstrong than that. When I was driving home from the space laboratory last night, the moon was up. I looked at it and thought back to that magical time and great adventure that Armstrong took us on several decades ago. I smiled back (and admittedly teared up), and gave him that wink.

I am convinced that hundreds and even thousands of years from now, long after we have become a space-faring civilization, children beyond Earth's orbit will be reading about our era. One of the few individuals they will read about will be Armstrong, the first representative from our species to set foot on another planet, forever changing our place in the universe. My hope is that, in some small way, we on the Curiosity team will help to inspire the next generation of kids the way he inspired me.

Glenn on Armstrong

‘More Than Walking on the Moon’

Even if Neil Armstrong had never gone to the moon and been the first man to make footprints outside of Earth, he’d be lauded as a distinguished American, his friend John Glenn tells Eleanor Clift.

John Glenn and his wife, Annie, were shopping at Target on Saturday when a longtime aide called to tell them that Neil Armstrong had died. “We had been in touch with Carol [Armstrong’s wife], so it didn’t come as any surprise,” Senator Glenn says. “It is a big loss, but those things happen. We were close friends and kept in touch over the years.”


This 1963 NASA photo shows astronauts John Glenn, left, and Neil Armstrong during survival training in Panama. (NASA / AP Photo)

The last time they were together was earlier this summer, when Ohio State marked the 50th anniversary of Glenn’s first orbital flight back in 1962, and Armstrong was one of the speakers.

“I look at Neil for more than walking on the moon,” says Glenn. “He was a very distinguished American to me, even if he had never gone to the moon. He had a long and very distinguished career in aviation. He got a pilot’s license before he got his motor-vehicle license. He was a decorated pilot in the Korean War. Then he did test work and flew some of the most advanced aircraft, like the X-15 [which flies 4,000mph].

“Later on in the space program, he did the first rendezvous with Gemini [linking with another spacecraft], but he will always be remembered for the first footprints that anyone ever made outside of Earth,” Glenn says. Just as the senator will always be remembered for being the first to circle the Earth, Armstrong’s place in history is secure even as it overshadows his other stellar accomplishments.

“I remember him more as a close personal friend, a good guy,” Glenn adds. “Some people called him a recluse, but he was anything but. He was a warmhearted, friendly guy. He just didn’t enjoy the spotlight.”

Glenn and Armstrong were both from small towns in Ohio, a background that reinforced their bond as astronauts. Glenn’s longtime aide, Dale Butland, recalls that when Glenn was up for reelection to the Senate in 1986 and they were campaigning in the part of the state where Armstrong had a farm, Glenn suggested they pay him a visit. “John knew where we were going,” Butland says as he remembers driving on back roads in Wapakoneta to reach Armstrong’s place.

Armstrong was 82 when he passed away Saturday from complications following heart-bypass surgery. “That’s young to me,” says Glenn, who turned 91 in July. He and Annie, who is 92, have had knee replacements—one for him, two for her. “Only one natural knee between us,” he quips. Asked if he’ll be watching the Republican convention, he says, “I can do without that.”

Apollo 11

‘The Best Pilot I Ever Knew’

Before he made history on the moon, Neil Armstrong was famous among military aviators for his bold test flights and his ‘steel trap of a mind.’ Taylor Dinerman talks to Buzz Aldrin about his friend’s legacy.

From the point of view of America's politicians, the most significant thing about Neil Armstrong was that on July 20, 1969, when he became the first man to set foot on the moon, he was a civilian. Unlike his fellow Apollo 11 astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins, Armstrong was not a military officer assigned to NASA. It would have been too much of a contradiction if the lunar plaque signed by Richard Nixon, which read in part, "We came in peace for all mankind" was put in place by a U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel or a Navy commander.

Neil Armstrong

Neil Armstrong in April of 1969, suited up for a dress rehearsal before the Apollo 11 lunar landing. (Bettmann / Corbis)

It was not that Armstrong had never served in the military. As a naval aviator during the Korean War, he'd flown F9F Panther fighter-bombers from an aircraft carrier off the coast of North Korea. In the course of five combat tours he earned a reputation as one of the best pilots in the Navy.

But he quit the Navy after graduating from Purdue, becoming a full-time civilian researcher and test pilot, first at the Lewis National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) center outside Cleveland, Ohio (now called NASA Glenn), and later out of the legendary Edwards Air Force Base in the California high desert. There, Armstrong became famous for flying the dangerous and temperamental X-15 rocket plane. His March 1962 X-15 flight took him up to 207,000 feet in altitude. Not quite high enough to earn one's astronaut wings, but a remarkable feat.

Inside the small world of military aviation, his exploits as a test pilot are still spoken of with awe. One of the stories that is told is that after landing a plane in the desert after its engines had both failed, Armstrong was rolling to a stop when he saw an obstacle that he was about to crash into. According to the legend, he used his speed and the flaps and rudders of his aircraft to force the plane up onto one wheel and, like a movie stunt driver, swerved around the obstacle precariously balanced on a single bit of rubber.  

Other stories tell of his close calls and the controversial landing he made on what was supposed to be a dry lake bed in Nevada. In fact, it was a bit too muddy to hold up the weight of the two-seat T-33 training jet he was flying, and its wheels sank into the mud, apparently much to the amusement of his passenger, Chuck Yeager.

His skill as a research and test pilot certainly impressed Buzz Aldrin. Armstrong was “the best pilot I ever knew,” Aldrin said in an interview with The Daily Beast shortly after his former colleague’s death. That is high praise indeed coming from a man who had flown F-86 jet fighters in combat in Korea and who has his own impressive set of flying and technical academic credentials. Armstrong's ability to memorize the smallest engineering detail and to be able to explain, in even more detail, the intricate working of any aircraft he tested made him the outstanding test pilot of his generation. To this day, within military aviation, he is famous for his "steel trap" mind and his unflappable demeanor.

He joined the NASA astronaut corps in September 1962, a bit more than a year after President Kennedy had committed America "within this decade" to "landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.” Armstrong entered astronaut training confident of his abilities; as he told his biographer James Hansen, he had "worked actively with the guys in the simulator lab constructing simulations to try and investigate problems."


Armstrong’s Heroic Task

After one of NASA’s darkest moments—the 1986 Challenger explosion—Neil Armstrong provided stoic leadership. Matthew DeLuca talks to the man who helped the late icon write the final report.

It was a sight of horror to match the sights of wonder the American space program had provided to that point. On Jan. 28, 1986, every American who had thrilled to watch a man touch the surface of the moon 17 years earlier felt the tragedy that struck when the needle of Challenger, a blotch shrinking against the Florida sky, suddenly exploded. All seven astronauts aboard, including a New Hampshire high-school teacher, were killed instantly.

Challenger Investigation 1986

Astronaut Neil Armstrong, a member of the Rogers Commission, the presidential panel that investigated the Challenger explosion, listens to testimony in Washington on Feb. 11, 1986. A model of the shuttle sits on the table. (Scott Stewart / AP Photo)

When President Ronald Reagan appointed the Rogers Commission the next month to determine just what had caused the shuttle to explode 73 seconds into its 10th mission, he chose Neil Armstrong, the man who perhaps more than any other was the face of American’s ambitions in space, to serve as vice chairman. The committee also included Nobel Prize–winning physicist Richard Feynman as well as the first American woman in space, Sally Ride, who died in July of this year. Attorney David C. Acheson was also appointed and was one of the committee members who worked most closely with Armstrong.

At stake in the commission’s report was whether the American space program would continue as it had, relying heavily on manned missions above the Earth, or whether greater resources should be dedicated to unmanned, robotic missions that would not involve any risk of lost life. The commission tried to steer clear of these twin minefields, Acheson said in an interview with The Daily Beast shortly after Armstrong’s death. Armstrong’s judicious voice as the country’s most visible space pioneer helped keep the commission on track, Acheson, now 91, recalled.

“We were anxious not to try to trample on the grounds of controversy that involved the enthusiasts for the robotic programs who were often arrayed in Congress and elsewhere against enthusiasts for the manned space programs,” Acheson says of the committee’s work. “Neil, being an astronaut, was very objective about that and very wise in not saying, ‘Look, the interests and aims of the manned space program should override everything else.’”

The commission had its dramatic moments, as when Feynman dunked an O-ring, one of the insulators ultimately found to have failed, in a glass of ice water during a hearing to demonstrate the effect of cold on the seal. It was the officer-manager style disregard for the lives of the men and women who climbed into the shuttle, however, that most chilled Armstrong and Ride, Acheson said.

“The two astronauts on the commission were terribly concerned about the lack of sensitivity at the Marshall Space Center to the risk,” faced by astronauts, Acheson said. “It was the shock of the two astronauts on the commission that really made us focus on the extraordinary obtuseness of the Marshall Space Center.”

When it came time to write the commission’s report, the chairman, former secretary of state William Rogers, tasked Armstrong and Acheson with writing it together. For an engineer and an astronaut, Acheson said, Armstrong was not half bad wielding a pen. To test their writing chops, Armstrong came up with an idea for the two of them to each take a copy of an article from the aerospace periodical Aviation Week.

Conspiracy Theories

The Moon Landing Hoax

The passing of the great Neil Armstrong, honor to his memory, reminds me of this classic piece of Internet flotsam, a satiric response to Holocaust deniers everywhere:

Until recently, I, too, believed in the traditional, establishment view of the moon. But any thinking person, untainted by the biases imposed on us by the controlled media, will have no choice but to reach the conclusion I did once faced with the facts described in this account.

Contents: 1. 12 Questions and Answers about The Moon

(Before we present our proof, we must, of necessity, examine the standard lies and logical games, repeated and rehashed ad nauseam by the Astronomically Correct establishment, and how they are used to silence opposition over the question of the moon)What evidence do we have that there really is a moon?

You can see it.

But don’t all qualified scientists and astronomers agree that there is a moon?

But who could or would perpetrate such a hoax?

What about that "moon landing" that took place in 1969, and all of the subsequent "moon landings", as well as pictures taken by satellites and telescopes?

Space Hero

A Modest Man

Give him the moon landing, sure, but astronaut Neil Armstrong’s bigger accomplishment was showing Americans how to accept honest humility, writes Daniel Stone.

For the distant past and forever into the future, only one man can ever lay claim to Neil Armstrong’s title. The first human on another world, the former astronaut's life was defined by one mission, several tense moments, and one iconic quote—and with them, as much glory as he wanted for the rest of his life, which ended unexpectedly at 82 on Saturday.

If it was John F. Kennedy who challenged the nation in 1961, then it was Armstrong who inspired the world eight years later. And that inspiration ran deep. Several decades after Armstrong's famed Apollo 11 mission, my third-grade teacher, Ms. Bronson, hung the astronaut's photo on the wall, telling us in gripping detail about a watershed moment in space history. And it was then that every single one of my classmates wanted to be an astronaut like him. Had we, at 9 years old, known the word “stupefying,” it was probably how we would have described him.

It was only in the following years, and when I became a journalist, when I realized just what Armstrong's accomplishment really was. Sure, he stepped down the ladder first. But that had an element of luck. That could have been any seasoned flight engineer who logged the requisite flying hours and showed calm under pressure. After all, it was by sheer virtue of the flight coordinator's mood back in Houston that Armstrong got to step on the moon before his Apollo 11 colleague Buzz Aldrin, who went second.


Bettmann / Corbis

Armstrong's lesson came in the years after he returned to Earth. First he took a NASA desk job in Washington. Then, the man with one of the world's most recognizable names went back to school for a master’s in aeronautical engineering at University of Southern California. He took a job teaching his craft at the respectable but quaint University of Cincinnati. When book agents and network news reporters came knocking, he turned them down. He moseyed occasionally around Lebanon, Ohio, where he owned a farm, and asked locals to respect his privacy.

I requested interviews twice with Armstrong in what turned out to be the final years of his life. Both times I was politely told he simply wasn’t interested. He never wanted to be used as a simple quote in a story about space policy or to let a magazine use his image to boost readership. Asked regularly about his feelings when taking that first step, Armstrong would routinely fall back on the same sentiment. “I was certainly aware that this was the culmination of the work of 300,000 to 400,000 people over a decade.”

Ever the skilled pilot, he kept us guessing. Three months ago, Armstrong granted a lengthy sit-down to—who else?—the Certified Practicing Accountants of Australia, a professional trade group. Armstrong spent several hours explaining every detail of his fabled moon landing, which was close to ending in out-of-gas disaster. It was an interview that CNN or NBC would have killed for, and he explained that he simply wanted to tell his story in detail without exploiting it. Graphic designers helped create no-frills visuals to show the moments before Armstrong's lunar touchdown. The footage now, of course, is a relic.

In an era of instant glory and relentless self-promotion, it’s hard to imagine someone like Armstrong existing now. Plenty of people deserve public accolades, but few if any turn them down, trading in the guarantee of fame and immense fortune for privacy and the chance to simply keep doing the work they enjoy.

Moon Landing

Neil Armstrong Opens Up

In a rare interview, astronaut Neil Armstrong talks about the space program, his walk on the moon, and the fate of NASA.

For all his global fame, Neil Armstrong is a remarkably modest man. So modest, in fact, that he almost never gives interviews and insists occasionally that he hates talking about himself. He spoke with the Discovery Channel in 2008 for an anniversary special. But now Armstrong, 81, is finally opening up in great detail. In a puzzling move, he recently sat down with Alex Malley, head of the Certified Practicing Accountants of Australia. “I know something not a lot of people know about Neil Armstrong—his dad was an auditor,” Malley says, explaining his in with the famed astronaut. Describing his early love of flight, the growth of NASA, and the mission that led to his famous “first step for man” declaration, Armstrong offers a rare and fascinating glimpse inside one of the world’s most daring, and successful, missions.

It’s possible the world would never have heard of Armstrong if not for a narrow escape from a perilous flight early in his career. Armstrong recounts how he cheated death while he trained to be an astronaut.

The first mission, Apollo 1, never got off the ground after a fire killed its crew on the launch pad. Armstrong provides details of the tragedy that took the lives of his friends, and explains the hidden benefits that resulted.

Apollo 11 was actually an afterthought for Armstrong’s bosses, a flight so far in the future than no one believed it would be the first mission to land on the surface of the moon.

Neil Armstrong, 1930-2012

Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, died Saturday at the age of 82. Hear his iconic words as he takes the historic first steps on the lunar surface.

Armstrong: 'I Wasn't Chosen'

For a man who holds a place in history as the first person to walk on the moon, Neil Armstrong never failed to conduct himself with the utmost humility. Watch the astronaut, who died Saturday at the age of 82, discuss his legacy in this 2005 interview.


The Final Frontier

Curiosity’s Home Stretch

Curiosity’s Home Stretch

As the interplanetary rover gets closer and closer to the surface of Mars, Flight Director Comeaux recounts the final tense minutes.

Clunky, Chunky & Funky

The Rocket Back to ’70s Design

Red Planet

Don’t Give Up on Mars


Armstrong's Career Highlights

  • 1930

    Born in Wapakoneta, Ohio on August 5.

  • 1947

    Begins his studies at Purdue University on a Navy scholarship to study aeronautical engineering.

  • 1949

    The Navy Calls him to active duty in the Korean War.

  • 1952

    Returns to his studies at Purdue University, where he eventually graduates with a Bachelor of Science.

  • 1955

    Becomes a civilian research pilot for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics.

  • 1962

    Selected by NASA as one of nine test pilots for its astronaut-training program.

  • 1966

    Carries out the first successful docking of two vehicles in space as pilot of the Gemini 8 mission.

  • 1969

    Becomes the first man to walk on the moon as part of the Apollo 11 mission.

  • 1969-1971

    Serves as NASA's deputy associate administrator for aeronautics.

  • 1971-1979

    Teaches Aerospace Engineering at the University of Cincinatti.

  • 1982-1992

    Serves as chairman of Computing Technologies for Aviation.

  • 2012

    Dies on August 25, as a result of complications from cardiovascular procedures.