Reuters is reporting this morning the passing of the American legend. In an era where military personnel were the main source of test pilots, Neil Armstrong managed to land a position with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA); the agency which eventually became NASA.
He flew prototype and experimental aircraft, pushing the limits of what we thought possible for an airplane to do. Yet instead of being a NASA astronaut, he was part of the X-20 Dynasoar program with the goal for a manned space plane for launch in the mid-1960s. With Dynasoar’s cancellation following the success of the Mercury program, he then became part of the second group of Astronauts selected for the follow on Gemini program. Holding a master’s degree in aerospace engineering, Neil stood apart from many of his classmates, understanding the underlying principles as well as the hands-on knowledge. With Neil’s quick reaction in command of Gemini 8 saving the two-man crew from becoming the first deaths in space, he found himself on the top of the list for the Apollo program to land on the moon. His quick thinking later saved his own life when the Lunar Lander Research Vehicle went out of control during the Lunar Lander’s development.
Alongside Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, Neil was to take the Apollo lander to the lunar surface. When the original computer-guided landing zone was found unsafe as they approached, the veteran pilot took over manual control, and guided the lander down to the moon’s surface by himself.
With the successful mission behind him, Neil left NASA to join DARPA during the era where the research agency was heavily developing what we now call the internet. He eventually left for a teaching post at the University of Cincinnati, becoming a professor of Astronautics.
A humble man, he intentionally avoided the spotlight, turning down many opportunities for center stage. He still assisted NASA on occasion, including serving on both the Apollo 13 and Challenger accident commissions.
But even then, the call of space was with him. At the age of 80, in a speech he gave at the Science & Technology Summit he said that he would offer his services to command a mission to Mars if asked.
Neil Armstrong: Proof that the sky is, indeed, not the limit.