≡ Menu

On Neil Armstrong

“Neil Armstrong may well be the only human being of our time to be remembered 50,000 years from now.”

— J. G. Ballard, “Back to the Heady Future,” Daily Telegraph, 17 April 1993.

If anything, Neil Armstrong was almost too perfect for the role he played. If I had been asked to script the kind of character I’d like to have seen as the first man on the Moon, Armstrong would have walked into the role effortlessly, a quiet, even diffident man who had the courage to ride rockets. Flyers come in all descriptions, but those I used to hang around with in my own flying days (far tamer than any of Armstrong’s, to be sure!) were generally raconteurs, full of improbable tales that could never be verified, jongleurs seasoned in the arts of extroversion.

Not so Neil Armstrong, and therein lies the reason for my own sense of pride in the man and his accomplishment. July 20, 1969 was, inevitably, a hot day in St. Louis. I had driven to Webster Groves that afternoon to watch the moon landing with my future wife along streets that shimmered with heat. A native of the city, I was used to the humidity and it wasn’t because of it that my hands were sweaty. Like so many around the world, I was jacked up and nervous as a cat. We watched the landing to the sound of distant thunder, not learning until later just how pulse-pounding the actual touchdown became, though hearing about computer alarms during the descent made it clear this was one script that hadn’t proceeded precisely by the book.

Later that night, back at my own house after the first steps had been taken on the Moon, I looked at the LEM on TV and knew I was in the middle of history and that someday I would be explaining how it felt to my grandchildren. I slept little that night, my thoughts — now and then turning into dreams — playing the landing sequence over and over again. The next day, which was a Monday if memory serves, I drove downtown to buy tobacco at my favorite pipe shop and saw a huge banner draped across one of the buildings. Its words were simple: ‘We Made It!’ That sense of collective exaltation is something that’s hard to describe to those who weren’t fortunate enough to experience it. It transcended an Asian war and the era’s violent politics.

Image: A time like no other: Collins, Aldrin, Armstrong amidst an exultant crowd in August of 1969.

The details of Armstrong’s life are all over the media — this Washington Post story is a good summary, especially in its comment by James Hansen, who wrote Neil’s biography First Man (Simon & Schuster, 2005). Hansen’s take is that Neil didn’t want any part of what would surely have become blatant commercialism growing out of Apollo 11’s accomplishments. Thus the withdrawal from public life that grew out of the natural instincts of a loner. The analysis helps to explain a man some saw as mysterious and others as mythic.

He was both those things, of course, but like all human beings, he transcended easy description. Armstrong would become the space program’s Garbo, elevated and magnified by virtue of his very untouchability. I wondered last night what his final thoughts were as the end approached. Would he have played over in his mind the dramatic moments of July 20, 1969? Maybe, and that’s how it would probably be scripted in a movie. But it’s just as likely that what he was perceiving in those last moments was deeply personal, a childhood Christmas, perhaps, or a favorite song during flight training, or the face of a woman he loved.

None of us can know how anyone else approaches death, but we are all creatures of bone, sinew and nerve and we live the truest part of our lives in the kind of deep emotional privacy that Neil Armstrong came to exemplify. This quietly dignified man vaulted into prominence only to remind us that great achievement does not have to walk hand in hand with ego. Indeed, Armstrong’s legacy will couple the Sea of Tranquility with the collected bearing of an individual who never elevated himself over others, whose gift of focused passion offers deep truths in the meaning of courage and character.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Michael August 27, 2012, 5:43

    May we ascend back to the moon before the last of the Apollo hero’s are laid to rest.

  • Brett Bellmore August 27, 2012, 7:00

    My own memories of the Moon landing are somewhat faded, having been about 10 at the time. The whole family crowded around a B&W TV, watching intently. It wasn’t until a few years later, when I got my first pair of glasses, and actually *saw* the stars, and the moon as more than a big, blurry blob in the sky, that I became obsessed with space travel. (Spent hours just staring up that first night!)

    Every time we drive up to Michigan to visit family, we make a point of stopping at the Neil Armstrong museum in Wapakoneta Ohio. (Our most recent visit, just a month or so ago, happened to be on the Moon landing’s anniversary.) It’s well worth a visit if you’re even remotely near the area.

  • David H August 27, 2012, 8:37

    As a kid, earlier in 1969, I wrote to NASA to express my thoughts and best wishes. Then, coming home from school one day a letter was waiting. It was signed by Neil. The astronauts were quite generous with their time and as part of their mission, took time to encourage young people who wrote to them. The astronauts over the years maintained a dignity that seems appropriate to their achievements. Neil, thank you.

  • Ronald August 27, 2012, 8:49

    I was only 7 at the time, but it deeply impressed me and, though I am not even American, it was one of the most profound and lasting memories of my childhood, the deep realization that this was history being made and I was witnessing it, truly a giant leap for humankind. Even now, I feel a kind of emotion when I think of it or when I see the images of the landing.

    And I can still long for a new era of space exploration and the can-do mentality of that period.

    If America, or the western world united, had continued on this track, we humans would have been on Mars by now (in a similar fashion we could say, with Carl Sagan, that if we had not had the middle-ages but had continued our civilization since the ancient Greeks, we could have been at the nearest stars by now).

    I sincerely hope that we humans will go to Mars in the next 20 years orso, to stay there.
    Some call it a waste of money, but I call it vision. Exactly what we humans need right now.

  • ljk August 27, 2012, 10:02

    Nicely written, Paul; poetic in fact. I am sure Neil would have appreciated the tribute.

    Here are some relevant links, the first various major media obituaries:


    What the Apollo 11 astronauts were doing in 2009, the fortieth anniversary of their historic mission:


    In 2010, Armstrong e-mailed a blogger who had questions about Apollo 11:


    And finally, here is an article on Armstrong’s famous first words when he stepped onto the lunar surface on July 20, 1969, and that famous missing “a”:


    Just for the heck of it, when the astronauts of the great 1950 film Destination Moon stepped onto our natural satellite, this is what they said:

    [after stepping onto the Moon’s surface]

    Jim Barnes: Claim it, Doc! I’m your witness – claim it officially.

    Dr. Charles Cargraves: By the grace of God, and the name of the United States of America, I take possession of this planet on behalf of, and for the benefit of, all mankind.

    And just for the heck of it 2, here are some other great quotes from the film that can be applied to all of our space ventures:

    Industrialist: Now listen, fella, I’ve known you from way back. Two-engine planes weren’t fast enough: you had to go in for four. Then props weren’t fast enough: you had to go in for jets. Now you’ve got a hold of something else, something that’ll go higher and faster than anything that ever existed before. You can’t swing it alone, so you’re trying to rope us in on it. Well, before we go along with you, you’ll have to tell us: what’s the payoff?

    Jim Barnes: Dollars and cents? I don’t know. I want to do this job because it’s never been done. Because I don’t know. It’s research, it’s pioneering. What’s the Moon? Another North Pole – another South Pole – our only satellite, our nearest neighbor in the sky.

    Industrialist: But why go there, Jim?

    Jim Barnes: We’ll know when we get there; we’ll tell you when we get back. It’s a venture that I don’t want to be left out of.

    And this one is just as relevant now as in 1950, even more so considering that private industry wants to get into the space arena (just excuse the Cold War rhetoric – though who knows these days and in those to come):

    [Why the government isn’t involved if it’s so important]

    Jim Barnes: Here’s the reason. The vast amount of brains, talents, special skills, and research facilities necessary for this project are not in the government, nor can they be mobilized by the government in peacetime without fatal delay. Only American industry can do this job. And American industry must get to work, now, just as we did in the last war!

    Industrialist: Yes, but the government footed the bill!

    Jim Barnes: And they’ll foot this bill, too, if we’re successful; you know that. If we fail, we’ll take a colossal beating. So we can’t fail! Not only is this the greatest adventure awaiting mankind, but it’s the greatest challenge ever hurled at American industry. And General Thayer is going to tell you why.

    General Thayer: The reason is quite simple. We are not the only ones who know that the Moon can be reached. We’re not the only ones who are planning to go there. The race is on – and we’d better win it, because there is absolutely no way to stop an attack from outer space. The first country that can use the Moon for the launching of missiles… will control the Earth. That, gentlemen, is the most important military fact of this century.


    Ironic and a bit sad that I have to go to a science fiction film made almost twenty years before Neil and Buzz walked on the Moon to get such great and relevant quotes on our future in space.

  • A. A. Jackson August 27, 2012, 10:05

    I spent almost 4 years in the presence of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. I came to the Manned Spacecraft Center in 1966 were I was placed as a crew training instructor. (I had degrees in math and physics at that time. Seems engineers were pressed into real engineering work or had been siphoned off into the DOD.) Spaceflight attracted a lot of physicists who could be put to work on all kinds of stuff.
    It’s funny I met Buzz first, I think as early as 1966. At MSC in those days before I married I used to be in Bldg. 4 (my office) or Bldg. 5 (the simulation facility) in the evenings sometimes because we worked a lot of second shift and I was unmarried at the time with a lot time on my hands. Anyway Buzz would come to Bldg. 5 to practice in a ‘part task’ trainer doing manual rendezvous , something he had pioneered.
    So I kind of got to know Buzz, but I can’t remember much but small talk and later talk about the Abort Guidance System which was my subsystem.
    When the Lunar Module Simulator got to going I started seeing Neil, but never talked to him much.
    Of all the Apollo crews Neil and Buzz were the most quite.
    I remember the time when we had them in the cockpit from about 8am to nearly noon and they had not said anything for like 3 hours, someone wondered if we ought to go up and check if they were all right!
    I do remember Neil from the trips to MIT and TRW, to go to briefings on the Primary Guidance and Navigation and the Abort Guidance System.
    I had seen Buzz do a little ‘chalk talking’ about technical stuff, but on the TRW trip Neil got up and gave a short seminar of rendezvous in orbit, some math stuff and all, he really knew his stuff. I remember being kind of surprised because I knew about Buzz’s doctorate in astronautics, but did not know Neil knew that much engineering physics.
    I do remember Neil coming to the LMS the morning after the Lunar Landing Training Vehicle crash , I think the backup crew were there, and them asking him how he felt and he said “O I’m just a little sore.” Actually he had bitten his tongue badly.
    The Apollo 11 crew were the backup crew for Apollo 8, except for Fred Haise, that crew too could have been first on the moon. I puzzle these days wither Deke Slayton and higher ups arranged that it would be Neil and Buzz or not. All the astronauts I worked with were very unusual and able men… but Neil and Buzz had more than the Right Stuff, they were kind of magicians of confidence. It would be years before the astronaut corps had anyone quite like them.

  • Paul Gilster August 27, 2012, 10:12

    I absolutely love that phrase ‘magicians of confidence’! Right on the money, Al.

  • ljk August 27, 2012, 10:15

    More relevant links:

    The blog Dreams of Space has wonderful reproductions of artwork from space books made between 1945 and 1975. As a prime example, here is one made the year after Apollo 11 with an excellent reproduction of Neil during his famous mission on the book cover:


    A fellow has used Google Moon to compare how things looked for Apollo 11 as they historically descended to the lunar surface in July of 1969:


    An interactive retelling of the Apollo 11 mission to Luna:


  • ljk August 27, 2012, 10:32

    A. A. Jackson, you are one lucky dog! Regarding how quiet the astronauts of Apollo 11 were, I read that during the flight to Luna, Mission Control had to prompt them to get talking about what they were doing and seeing. This was in contrast to Apollo 10, where those guys would not shut up! :^)

    I have to ask, were you ever involved with or aware of this little test in 1966:


    Speaking of Apollo 10, I always wondered if they were tempted to try to land first. Yes, you can say they were too well trained and disciplined, etc., but who could have stopped them really? They had the LM and were right there circling the Moon. And they would have been so famous that disciplining them not only would have seemed perfunctory but public reaction would have been highly against NASA behaving in any negative manner.

    Paul Gilster said in the main article:

    “I wondered last night what his final thoughts were as the end approached. Would he have played over in his mind the dramatic moments of July 20, 1969? Maybe, and that’s how it would probably be scripted in a movie. But it’s just as likely that what he was perceiving in those last moments was deeply personal, a childhood Christmas, perhaps, or a favorite song during flight training, or the face of a woman he loved.”

    I read an interview with Neil once where he was asked how often he thought about his mission to the Moon. He replied that enough people reminded him about Apollo 11 on a nearly daily basis that he did not have to. I have the feeling that it was in there in Neil’s final thoughts whether he wanted them there or not.

    By the way, in Andrew Chaikin’s A Man on the Moon and later in the 1998 HBO version of his book, it was revealed that NASA wanted Virgil “Gus” Grissom as their first choice to be the first human on the lunar surface. He was a favorite with the space engineers and management (Deke Slayton, the only Mercury 7 astronaut who never got to fly until the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in 1975, was head of the astronaut department then). I am sure in some alternate universe that is just what happened. It would have been interesting to see how Gus responded to everything after that.

  • Greg August 27, 2012, 11:07

    I can remember as a kid watching that first landing on the moon, I was wildly optimistic that some day I would be there. Thank you Neil for showing a young boy that there was future and it could be whatever he chose it to be. May your last journey be your biggest adventure, Godspeed!

  • Abelard Lindsey August 27, 2012, 11:39

    I don’t remember because I was only 6 at the time. I did not know what “space” was at the time. The earliest Apollo mission I remember was either 14 or 15. It was one where they had the buggy they drove around on the moon. It was during the summer (we were on family holiday in SoCal at the time).

    It was when I was around 10-11 years old that I began to learn what “space” was and the significance of the Apollo program.

  • Mark August 27, 2012, 13:04

    Neil was a class act, no question about it. He did his job, came back home, then returned to a life of obscurity. As for remembering his name 50,000 years from now though, that’s a bit of a stretch. Civilizations rise and fall –heck by 50,000 years we may have evolved into something beyond Homo Sapiens. I could see 5000 years, but after that the telling and retelling of legend is going to obscure history. I wonder if there’s any artifact on the moon itself that bears his name, an artifact which would survive millions of years? (Assuming someone (or some-thing) doesn’t go up there and muck up the historical landing site).

    I was a kid when Apollo 11 touched down. I didn’t watch the first steps on TV as they occurred well after my bedtime. I could not understand why my parents did not wake me up to watch the historic event on TV. Could not understand, that is, until I had my own kids. I recently tried to wake my 6 y/o son to watch the Mars Curiosity lander touch down. It just could not be done. Kids sleep like the dead when they’re little. So I’ve since forgiven my parents.

  • Bounty August 27, 2012, 13:07

    Humans have not been above low earth orbit since I’ve been alive (1978) so these figures seem less….. connected to me. Almost like reading or watching fiction.
    Sure robots do it, but not people. Buzz, at 82 is the last household name to walk on the moon. The rest of the men who’ve been to the moon are all 76+ years old. I wonder if I’ll see a human beyond low earth orbit in my lifetime.

    Maybe they’ll use one of these to get there…….

  • Joy August 27, 2012, 14:47

    I witnessed the earth shaking launch of Apollo 8 from inside the KSC gates, and also the brilliant false dawn of the night launch of Apollo 17, many years later watched Pete Conrad remotely fly the DC-X at White Sands, so Apollo was very real to me, the people and the hardware…

    I am hoping it is just an artifact of the (twice broadcast in 2000) Fox Entertainment moon hoax “documentary”, but in recent years I am hard pressed to find anyone under 50 who believes that Neil actually went to the moon. I imagined many things in 1969, but I never imagined that.

  • william August 27, 2012, 15:44

    Neil Armstrong is the only man … outside of male members of my family, whom I would’ve liked to have known personally, and shaken his hand and had it been possible been able to engage in a regular conversation with. Now that chance has been taken away forever. A very great and at the same time, a very humble individual. We will not see his type again for a very long time, I fear.

  • ljk August 27, 2012, 15:55

    Mark said on August 27, 2012 at 13:04:

    “I wonder if there’s any artifact on the moon itself that bears his name, an artifact which would survive millions of years? (Assuming someone (or some-thing) doesn’t go up there and muck up the historical landing site).”

    The plaque on the Lunar Module Eagle landing leg with the ladder has the names and signatures of all three Apollo 11 astronauts and then-president Richard Nixon, as seen here in this photograph taken during the mission:


    A view of the Apollo 11 plaque before being attached to the LM leg with the ladder:


    Assuming that artifacts on the lunar surface can survive millions of years – and assuming such historic landing sites will be preserved and protected as folks are rightly proposing – then the name of Neil Armstrong should live on for ages.

    And when (not if) we do successfully colonize Luna, no doubt there will be other monuments and places with his name on them, along with the other space pioneers who first got humanity off Earth. So perhaps Armstrong will be known to our descendents for 50,000 years or more. Plus the broadcasts of the Apollo 11 mission and many subsequent discussions about it have been traveling at light speed into deep space for over four decades now.


    Do not forget that we are much more aware of preserving knowledge than in any previous time in human history and are certainly getting better at making sure it is readable into the far future.

    Although Armstrong’s name is not on it, the famous photograph that the Apollo 11 crew took of Earth is one of the select images on the Voyager Interstellar Records, long on their way into the wider Milky Way galaxy since 1977 and expected to last at least one billion years in deep, deep space.


    Abelard Lindsey said on August 27, 2012 at 11:39:

    “I don’t remember because I was only 6 at the time. I did not know what “space” was at the time. The earliest Apollo mission I remember was either 14 or 15. It was one where they had the buggy they drove around on the moon. It was during the summer (we were on family holiday in SoCal at the time).”

    It must have been Apollo 15, as only the last three missions had the Lunar Rover vehicle. Apollo 14 had an equipment cart that the astronauts pulled around (I bet Apollo 13 had one, too, as they were very similar missions – Apollo 14 even landed where 13 was supposed to go in Fra Mauro).

  • ljk August 27, 2012, 16:53

    Just in case anyone is confronted with the nonsense about the Apollo Moon Hoax, the Bad Astronomer Phil Plait has an excellent Web site devoted to just answering this very subject:


    At least you will not have to resort to what Neil’s buddy on Apollo 11 Buzz Aldrin had to do to one hoax promoter:


  • Josh Haigh August 27, 2012, 17:47

    Hi all,
    Very sad to hear of the demise of this historic figure, Neil Armstrong. Although the first Moon landing happened ten years before I was born, this has still been a pivotal moment for me.
    It has even become part of the English language, “If we can go to the Moon, we can do x, y, z…” How about this one: “If we can go to the Moon, we can go back, and go beyond.”

  • Abelard Lindsey August 27, 2012, 17:57

    “It must have been Apollo 15, as only the last three missions had the Lunar Rover vehicle.”

    It was Apollo 15. Apollo 16 would have been spring of my 3rd grade year and Apollo 17 was christmas of my 4th grade year, which we had moved the previous summer.

    By the time I was in 3rd grade, I understood what “space” was. I started reading science fiction when I was in 6th grade, which was after skylab.

  • Stargazer August 27, 2012, 18:43

    I was 16 when Apollo 11 was sent to the Moon. A child of the Space Age, I was totally captivated by the excitement of the first manned mission to land on the Moon. I followed virtually every minute of TV coverage and even recorded much of it on a big old reel-to-reel tape recorder (tapes lost years later unfortunately). All of us understood to huge historical importance of the mission, the risks being run by the crew, and the steely courage they all demonstrated. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin — the crew that actually landed on the Moon — were everything you could hope for in Astronauts who clearly had the “right-stuff”. Hemingway described — perhaps defined — courage as grace under pressure. I think that perfectly describes Neil Armstrong — not just during the mission when it was essential of course, but afterwords as well when he deliberately shunned the spotlight and public acclaim that he could easily have received for the rest of his life. Honestly, I wish Armstrong had been a bit more public since I would really have loved to meet him and hear his views on space policy. But, I know I am being selfish in that wish. I respected Neil Armstrong’s desire to live a private life and he certainly earned the right to have his wishes honored. My guess, my hope, is that Neil Armstrong the astronaut will be remembered in human history as long as there is a human history. I only hope that the qualities that made him such a remarkable man are also remembered. We will miss you Neil Armstrong. Thank you for everything you did.

  • Verónica August 27, 2012, 19:18

    I was eleven at the time,and remember watching the walk in the moon, very late in the night (in Argentina). Sadly, I miss a part because I could not remain awake, but for many years I collect all I could about space travel, dreaming to become one of those that went to space. Of course, it could never happen. I was a girl, and in the wrong country. I was very disappointed when the Apollo Proyect was cancelled, and that Man would not go to the Moon for a long, long time

  • Kelvin August 27, 2012, 19:46

    Dear Paul,
    What beautiful words you write in tribute to this legend. I have read many accounts of his life in the last two days but your final paragraph shows you to be a truly gifted writer. It should make us all stop and think. We live in a celebrity obsessed culture but the way Neil Armstrong lived his life was like a clear traffic signal to our society reminding us we have lost our way and other traits are more important such as personal character, conduct, achievement, excellence, loyalty and humility.

    Goodbye Neil and thank you for your Great and wonderful life.
    Kelvin F.Long

  • Astronist August 27, 2012, 20:51

    ljk, my understanding re Apollo 10 is that the LM was overweight at that time, and not yet ready to attempt a landing. Unless the crew wanted to stay there permanently. As it was, two of the Apollo 10 crewmembers commanded landing missions of their own later, of course (and Stafford got Apollo-Soyuz).

    Like many others, I was a schoolboy at the time and stayed up all night (in the UK) to watch the TV pictures of the first moonwalk. Together with Apollo 8, Apollo 11 was a major formative experience of my childhood.

    Yes, we must and will return. But the political will to do it as a grandiose government project is no longer there, and so the Apollo model is no longer the way. For years I believed it was, but I was wrong: it now has to be a government-commerce partnership. The present confused situation has resulted from the pain involved in finding this new paradigm. I don’t believe Armstrong understood this.

    Thank you, Paul, for your magnificent tribute to a man who will surely be remembered for as long as our civilisation and its daughter civilisations last!

    Oxford, UK

  • Brett Bellmore August 27, 2012, 21:22

    “… but who could have stopped them, really?”

    The fact that, IIRC, they didn’t actually have a working lander with them, just exactly to stop them?

  • Abelard Lindsey August 27, 2012, 22:26

    There’s a story about Apollo 10 that I’m sure is true.

    Stafford, who was one of the Apollo 10 astronauts, was shown the lunar lander that they were to test as part of their mission. The NASA manager had the lander placed on a scale to show Stafford and his crew that it was 500 Kg heavier than the Apollo 11 lander. They explained that this lander was deliberately made to be too heavy to land and take off from the moon so that they could not “accidentally” land on the moon in order to be the first men on the moon.

    I have no idea if this is a true story or not. However, given that the mission directors did have a reputation for surliness, I find it believable. The Apollo 7 astronauts, the first manned Apollo flight, all caught head colds during the mission and often “talked back” to the mission control. The mission directors got so pissed off that they said none of those men would be allowed to go up again in another Apollo mission.

  • ljk August 27, 2012, 22:48

    Why Neil Armstrong got so few photographs of himself on the Moon during his historic time there:


  • ljk August 27, 2012, 23:00

    The Space Review’s tribute to Neil Armstrong, by Jeff Foust:


  • ljk August 28, 2012, 9:51

    Abelard Lindsey said on August 27, 2012 at 22:26:

    “There’s a story about Apollo 10 that I’m sure is true.

    “Stafford, who was one of the Apollo 10 astronauts, was shown the lunar lander that they were to test as part of their mission. The NASA manager had the lander placed on a scale to show Stafford and his crew that it was 500 Kg heavier than the Apollo 11 lander. They explained that this lander was deliberately made to be too heavy to land and take off from the moon so that they could not “accidentally” land on the moon in order to be the first men on the moon.”

    LJK replies:

    What if there was a real emergency that required their landing on the Moon? One where they could at least later take off with the ascent stage? So basically NASA doomed the Apollo 10 crew to die just to make sure they didn’t ursurp Apollo 11’s historic moment?

    I know it is all water far under the bridge now, but if they really trusted that they were sending up trained astronauts who followed orders, they should have made the LM landing and take-off worthy just in case.

    Abelard Lindsey then said:

    “I have no idea if this is a true story or not. However, given that the mission directors did have a reputation for surliness, I find it believable. The Apollo 7 astronauts, the first manned Apollo flight, all caught head colds during the mission and often “talked back” to the mission control. The mission directors got so pissed off that they said none of those men would be allowed to go up again in another Apollo mission.”

    LJK replies:

    If you read the Washington Post story linked in the main article, you will see that NASA officials did get quitre surly and personal about who would and would not go into space and in what order. Here is the relevant quote from the piece:

    “Publicly, NASA said the first-step decision was a technical one dictated by where the astronauts would be positioned in the LM’s small cockpit. But in his 2001 autobiography, Christopher C. Kraft Jr., a top NASA flight official, confirmed the true reason.

    “Aldrin, who would struggle with alcoholism and depression after his astronaut career, was overtly opinionated and ambitious, making it clear within NASA why he thought he should be first. “Did we think Buzz was the man who would be our best representative to the world, the man who would be legend?” Kraft recalled. “We didn’t.”

    “The stoic Mr. Armstrong, on the other hand, quietly held to his belief that the descent and landing, not the moonwalk, would be the mission’s signature achievement. And it didn’t matter to him whether the Earthbound masses thought differently.

    “Neil Armstrong, reticent, soft-spoken and heroic, was our only choice,” Kraft said.

    And as I said earlier in this comment thread, Gus Grissom was their real first choice to take the first walk on the Moon until his tragic death in the Apollo 1 fire in 1967.

    It was a real shame about the Apollo 7 crew. Schirra was the one leading the charge as it were with all the crankiness and backtalk. His cohorts Eisle and Cunningham were rookies who I think were unfairly ostracized because of Schirra’s actions – and he didn’t care because he knew he was done after that flight anyway.

    Walt Cunningham later wrote one of the first truly candid books about the astronauts titled The All-American Boys. One revelation – not terribly shocking considering – is that many of the early generations of NASA astronauts came from the Midwestern US, where the culture is generally more conservative and less inclined to buck orders and trends (please note I said generally). Armstrong came from Ohio.

    More details here:


  • A. A. Jackson August 28, 2012, 11:30

    Seems you have read Kraft’s ” Flight: My Life in Mission Control”, he was most responsible for grounding Eisle and Cunningham. He said later he really regretted it, since it was Schirra who really caused the trouble, and apparently knew he was going to retire after Apollo 7.
    Kraft was an amazing technical manager. I remember once we had a problem with Lunar Module Simulator. Some problem with I think Grumman and Link, a technical deal. The crew, I think it was the Apollo 12 crew, so we met in Kraft’s big office , I didn’t get a chair, I was expecting an hour meeting, nope! Kraft solved the problem in about 5 min. and we left!

    The most interesting read in the book is about Apollo 8, pulling that off was amazing. I got to talk to Kraft about it on Apollo 8’s 40th anniversary he told me that Apollo 8 was the most important Saturn 5 – Apollo spacecraft flight.
    That flight was made possible by the management skills of both von Braun and Kraft.

  • ljk August 28, 2012, 13:55

    A. A. Jackson said on August 28, 2012 at 11:30:

    “@ljk – Seems you have read Kraft’s ” Flight: My Life in Mission Control”, he was most responsible for grounding Eisle and Cunningham. He said later he really regretted it, since it was Schirra who really caused the trouble, and apparently knew he was going to retire after Apollo 7.”

    LJK replies:

    I also thought it was a bit of a slap to the rest of the Apollo 7 crew that Schirra went on to do television ads about his space cold in the 1980s. Here are two:



    Dr. Jackson then said:

    “The most interesting read in the book is about Apollo 8, pulling that off was amazing. I got to talk to Kraft about it on Apollo 8′s 40th anniversary he told me that Apollo 8 was the most important Saturn 5 – Apollo spacecraft flight.
    That flight was made possible by the management skills of both von Braun and Kraft.”

    LJK replies:

    In 2008, I wrote a tribute to Apollo 8 on Centauri Dreams here:


  • ljk August 28, 2012, 17:18

    For a nice encapsulation of how society reacted to the Apollo program during and after that era, Andrew Chaikin, author of Man on the Moon, wrote on this subject in the fourth chapter of the NASA book Societal Impact of Spaceflight, Dick, Steven J. and Launius, Roger D., editors (NASA SP-2007-4801).

    “Live from the Moon: The Societal Impact of Apollo”


  • Gregory Benford August 28, 2012, 18:13

    I got a different aspect view of Apollo 11 from Buzz:


  • Rob Henry August 28, 2012, 19:44

    We humans love to overplay the importance of the legacy of anyone who dies simply because they were good people and good citizens, but I think here it may be true that Neil Armstrong is one of the few names from the last half century remembered by common folk 50,000 years hence.

    Surely it is our weaknesses rather than our strengths that define us, and without which we would not be *human*. One of the foremost of these likely to be enshrined in our descants (whatever their external nature) is our want of giving history the personal touch, after all we didn’t defeat the Nazis, we defeated Hitler.

    Armstrong may have been one of many involved in Apollo, but folk love their heroes and positive uplifting events are not all that common. It is bound to be remembered long after WWI and WWII.

    If we never leave this planet again we still need a legendary conduit through which grandparents can tell their grand children how close came. If we reach the stars, they need a legendary solitary Adam (or Eve) from which the epic tale begins.

  • ljk August 28, 2012, 20:29

    Greg, did NASA keep the Apollo 11 astronauts from flying again the same way JFK kept John Glenn from flying in space again after his Mercury mission (at least until 1998) because the USA was afraid of losing a national icon and hero?

    Thanks for sharing that story about your meeting with Buzz.

  • Gregory Benford August 29, 2012, 0:54

    ljk: NASA’s byzantine policies I know not…but seems so, alas.

    Rob Henry: May well be that Einstein, Hitler and Armstrong will be the emblems of the TwenCen.

  • ljk August 29, 2012, 10:19

    Wednesday’s Book Review: “Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut’s Journeys”

    Posted on August 29, 2012

    Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut’s Journeys. By Michael Collins. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1974. (40th Anniversary Edition, June 23, 2009)

    There have been several excellent Apollo astronaut memoirs, especially Gene Cernan’s The Last Man on the Moon and Jim Lovell’s Lost Moon, which was made into the feature film “Apollo 13.” But in honor of the passing of Neil Armstrong in August 25, 2012, I thought I would feature in Wednesday’s review the marvelous Michael Collins autobiography, Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut’s Journeys, which tells in detail the story of the Apollo 11 lunar landing mission from the perspective of the crew. Neil Armstrong, of course, commanded that mission.

    Indeed, Carrying the Fire, is the first candid book about life as an astronaut, written by the member of the Apollo 11 crew that remained in orbit around the Moon. The author comments on other astronauts, describes the seemingly endless preparations for flights to the Moon, and assesses the results. He also describes what he thinks of as the most important perspective that emerged from his flight, a realization of the fragility of the Earth. He wrote that “from space there is no hint of ruggedness to it; smooth as a billiard ball, it seems delicately poised on its circular journey around the Sun, and above all it seems fragile…Is the sea water clean enough to pour over your head, or is there a glaze of oil on its surface?…Is the riverbank a delight or an obscenity? The difference between a blue-and-white planet and a black-and-brown one is delicate indeed.”

    Full review here:


  • ljk August 29, 2012, 23:48

    Let’s Send Neil Back To The Moon

    by Tammy Plotner on August 29, 2012

    As a native-born and life-long resident of Ohio, I have lived in the shadow of Neil Armstrong all my life. I visit Wapokenta every few years for two simple reasons – I love the Armstrong Museum and I feel a need to pass that heritage on to children, grandchildren and visiting friends. Of course, I was crushed when I read of his death. I would have given anything to have had Armstrong’s autograph on my original Apollo landing newspapers, or even just to have seen the man. He was a humble hero… and this is the quality that I loved most about him. However, Neil Armstrong and his quiet ways didn’t just impact my life. He touched us all.

    “Early on Sunday morning here in Australia I got the news I never wanted to hear.” says Dave Reneke of Australia. “I was in the middle of a radio interview on a local station when they cut in with the news that Neil Armstrong had passed away. “What?? What are you telling me…Neil’s dead!!” I cut the interview short because I simply couldn’t go on.

    Neil Armstrong wasn’t just an American hero; he belonged to the entire world. Kids wanted to be like him. Men looked up to him and every woman wanted to be Mrs. Neil Armstrong. My world had just collapsed and I didn’t know what to do.

    A humble man who, as a kid, only ever wanted to fly, Neil went on to pilot the famous X-15 rocket plane, fly dozens of dangerous missions during the Korean War and later travel in space with Dave Scott on the Gemini 8 mission in 1966. He was unknowingly paving the way for his ultimate destiny to be the first man to walk on the Moon a mere 3 years later.

    There will never be another event like this. If anything epitomises the twentieth century it was the first Moon landing. Our first steps on another world. Those of us who witnessed it remember where they were at the time, just as we did when Elvis died and Kennedy was assassinated. Tragedy imprints, indelibly!

    Full article here:


    To quote:

    I’m proposing a monument to be built on the Sea Of Tranquillity, on the spot where Neil and Buzz walked and, if there’s no national burial planned, place his ashes there. An eternal symbol and testament to human accomplishment – as Neil put it, the place where men from planet Earth first set foot on the Moon, and came in peace for all mankind.

    Let it be slated for the first Moon return mission, by any country or private consortium. A stone minimally inscribed with a simple message telling the story for future generations. The blood, sweat, tears and spirit of countless thousands who worked on the Moon missions would be indelibly imprinted on it. Even the words ‘Neil and Buzz were here’ would satisfy me.

    We’ve got the ‘Monument to a Century of Flight’ located at the Aycock Brown Welcome Centre at milepost 1.5 in Kitty Hawk, NC, the Smithsonian cradles flight history and the ashes of people like Gene Rodenberry, James Doohan et al circle the earth in tributary gestures.

    Neil’s remains would be in good company on the Moon sharing the eternal silence with the ashes of Eugene Shoemaker. If you just asked “who” Google the name, it’s a great story. Folks, this is not something we need to do, it’s something we should do!”

    The author of this narrative would like to hear any feedback, especially if you’re in a position to help make this happen. Contact Dave Reneke, writer and publicist for Australasian Science magazine via his webpage http://www.davidreneke.com or email davereneke@gmail.com

  • ljk August 30, 2012, 10:03

    What The Apollo Astronauts Did For Life Insurance

    by Chana Joffe-Walt

    NPR – August 30, 2012

    This week, Americans have been remembering Neil Armstrong. But before he walked on the moon, he had to solve a much more prosaic problem.

    “You’re about to embark on a mission that’s more dangerous than anything any human has ever done before,” Robert Pearlman, a space historian and collector with collectspace.com, told me. “And you have a family that you’re leaving behind on earth and there’s a real chance you will not be returning.”

    Exactly the kind of situation a responsible person plans for by taking out a life insurance policy. Not surprisingly, a life insurance policy for somebody about to get on a rocket to the moon cost a fortune.

    But Neil Armstrong had something going for him. He was famous, as was the whole Apollo 11 crew. People really wanted their autographs.

    “These astronauts had been signing autographs since they day they were announced as astronauts and they knew even though ebay didn’t exist back then that there was a market for such things,” Pearlman said. “There was demand.”

    Especially for what were called covers — envelopes signed by astronauts and postmarked on important dates.

    About a month before Apollo 11 was set to launch, the three astronauts entered quarantine. And, during free moments in the following weeks, each of the astronauts signed hundreds of covers.

    They gave them to a friend. And on important days – the day of the launch, the day the astronauts landed on the moon – their friend got them to the post office and got them postmarked, and then distributed them to the astronauts’ families.

    It was life insurance in the form of autographs.

    “If they did not return from the moon their families could sell them – to not just fund their day-to-day lives, but also fund their kids’ college education and other life needs,” Pearlman said.

    Full article here:


  • ljk August 31, 2012, 15:35

    Here’s how to honor Neil Armstrong

    Friday morning’s memorial service for first moonwalker Neil Armstrong, who passed away last weekend, is strictly private — but his family has specified at least four ways that you can pay tribute to the man who took a giant leap into the cosmos.

    First, about that private service: It’s due to take place at a club in Cincinnati at 11 a.m. ET. Although admittance is by invitation only, media representatives were told where to gather and who’ll be available for interviews.

    Among the VIPs are NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders (who played a role in taking the famous “Earthrise” picture of our planet as seen from lunar orbit in 1968). U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, is slated to give the eulogy.

    NASA photographer Bill Ingalls will be taking pictures and posting them to the http://www.NeilArmstrongInfo.com website that’s been set up for the family to communicate with the public.

    The folks handling the arrangements for the private service report today that “plans are under way to conduct a national service in Washington in the next two weeks” to celebrate Armstrong’s life and legacy. In accordance with President Barack Obama’s proclamation, U.S. flags are to be flown at half-staff until sunset Friday as a mark of respect for Armstrong, who died at the age of 82 after suffering complications from heart surgery.

    Also today, the family posted a statement about other ways to honor the man they’ve called a “reluctant American hero”.

    Full article here:


  • ljk September 6, 2012, 23:20


    Neil Armstrong to be buried at sea

    Updated 4 hours 43 minutes ago

    Photo: Neil Armstrong led the Apollo 11 mission and walked on the Moon on July 20, 1969. (AFP)

    Related Story: First man on moon Neil Armstrong dead

    Related Story: Your tributes: Neil Armstrong

    The first person to walk on the Moon, Neil Armstrong, will be buried at sea, a family spokesman says.

    Armstrong died on August 25, following complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures. He was 82.

    A public memorial service will be held at the Washington National Cathedral on September 13 and will be broadcast live on NASA Television and streamed online at nasa.gov and nationalcathedral.org.

    On July 20, 1969, Armstrong, who led the Apollo 11 mission, became the first human to walk on the moon.

    He lived in the Cincinnati, Ohio area and is survived by his two sons, a stepson and a stepdaughter, 10 grandchildren, a brother and a sister, NASA said.

  • ljk September 7, 2012, 10:00

    See Armstrong’s Hands and Eyes on the Moon

    by Elizabeth Howell on September 6, 2012

    You see those gloves? Those gloves grasped the lunar ladder as Neil Armstrong hopped down to the moon’s surface on July 20, 1969. Tinged with blue silicon rubber fingertips to help Armstrong feel his way, those gloves carried experiments, and tools, and touched Moon dust. They were the first gloves used while walking on the Moon.

    They’ve been in storage for more than a decade. But right now — for at least the next two weeks — they are sitting in a special display case at the Smithsonian’s airport annex in Washington. The National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is showing them to the public in honour of Armstrong, who died at the age of 82 on Aug. 25.

    Oh yeah, and you can also check out the helmet that Neil Armstrong used as he described the lunar surface to millions of awe-struck listeners on live television. (The gold-plated visor he used on the surface is not being lowered again due to concerns about damaging it, but it’s inside the helmet.) No big deal.

    Full article here:


  • ljk September 7, 2012, 16:52

    Beyond the era of Armstrong: Preserving Tranquility Base and other historic sites on the Moon

    by Michael Listner

    Tuesday, September 4, 2012

    The passing of Neil Armstrong on August 25 has brought new calls for the Apollo 11 landing site to be designated as a National Historic Landmark so that it may eventually be nominated for inclusion on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) World Heritage List.1

    The idea of preserving the Apollo sites is not a new one, particularly in regards to the artifacts left behind by the Apollo missions. (See “Protecting Apollo artifacts on the Moon”, The Space Review, November 11, 2011.)

    An attempt to designate the Apollo 11 landing site as National Historic Landmark could run afoul of some of the basic norms of international space law.

    Aside from the historic value of the artifacts at Tranquility Base, there is also the very real significance of the presence of the Apollo 11 astronauts left in the lunar regolith, which remain as a permanent reminder of that great accomplishment barring future human interference.

    Surely, disturbing the very first footprints by a human being on the surface would be an affront to that great accomplishment.2 However, protecting Tranquility Base or other sites on the Moon presents a unique problem that the current regulatory and legal framework, including the National Historic Landmark Program, does not address.

    Full article here:


  • ljk September 7, 2012, 17:00

    Lonely giant

    by Dwayne A. Day

    Tuesday, September 4, 2012

    One of the many benefits of being a rich nation is that we can spend money on frivolities, like history and art. Very few countries have this luxury.

    When the Soviet Union collapsed, not only did they stop flying their Buran space shuttle, they put the only flown example in an assembly building and left it there, abandoned. But eventually, because of neglect, the roof collapsed and this example of Russian technological achievement was destroyed. Tragically, several workers died in the accident.

    This was a flight-ready piece of hardware, the last Saturn V first stage manufactured, and it apparently includes F-1 engines originally installed on the Apollo 15 and 16 S-ICs, as well as the last F-1 engine ever produced.

    The United States has done a better job of preserving its space history. All of the surviving space shuttles are either already in or headed for suitable permanent homes. Other flown American spacecraft are on display in various museums. And the three Saturn V rockets (although not all of them are flight objects) are protected and available to the public.

    But there are some objects that deserve better treatment than they are getting. Recently the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama announced their future plans, and fortunately one of the projects on their list includes refurbishing the exterior of the Skylab underwater trainer at the museum. Although the Space and Rocket Center has a great asset in the form of the Davidson Center for Space Exploration and their Saturn V rocket display, many of their exterior artifacts are in dire need of preservation.

    Several hundred kilometers to the southwest sits another neglected piece of space history, a complete Saturn V S-IC first stage. It resides at the entrance to the Michoud Assembly Facility, which used to manufacture Saturn hardware like the S-IC and Space Shuttle External Tanks, but now doesn’t do much at all.

    Officially designated S-IC-15, this was a flight-ready piece of hardware, the last Saturn V first stage manufactured, and it apparently includes F-1 engines originally installed on the Apollo 15 and 16 S-ICs, as well as the last F-1 engine ever produced. It was never officially designated for an Apollo mission, but most likely would have lofted Apollo 20 toward the Moon, if that mission had occurred. It was officially designated as a backup launcher for the Skylab Orbital Workshop. If, before flight, something had gone wrong with the first stage scheduled to lift Skylab, or if the first mission had failed completely (as it almost did) and the backup Skylab had to be launched, this first stage would have performed the mission.

    None of that happened—the backup Skylab currently resides in the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC—and so this expensive piece of hardware was also declared surplus.

    Full article here:


  • ljk September 13, 2012, 14:42
  • ljk September 13, 2012, 14:52

    Washington Post staff writer and reporter Joel Achenbach talks about his encounters with Armstrong:


    To quote:

    He also broached the topic of intelligent aliens. They’re out there, Collins said. All you have to do is work out the numbers on a chalkboard, it’s a statistical probability. Armstrong said he had to agree. Only Aldrin hedged, saying that humans might be the most advanced creatures around: “We could be at the top of the heap.”

  • ljk January 7, 2013, 10:16
  • ljk January 7, 2013, 10:20

    Last thoughts about working with the First Man

    One of the saddest events of 2012 was the death of Neil Armstrong. Dwayne Day recounts his experiences working with the first man to set foot on the Moon on an aeronautics committee last year.

    Monday, December 31, 2012


  • ljk January 7, 2013, 14:46

    Although most of this is in German, the article points out the inconsistencies in the stories about when Armstrong thought up his famous first words on the Moon, if he thought them up on his own at all:


    To quote from the e-mail post by the author I found this article on:

    “Documents proving any of the points of view are lacking to my knowledge.
    As I said here before: the actual question is highly irrelevant but our
    apparent inability to answer it – about a major historical event that
    happened less than 50 years ago and of which many witnesses are still
    alive – seems like a sobering experience to me ….”

  • ljk May 14, 2013, 16:06

    Revisiting the preservation of Tranquility Base and other historic sites on the Moon

    Most people recognize the historical significance of the Apollo landing sites and similar locations on the Moon, but there’s little consensus on how to protect them from future explorers. Michael Listner examines some of the proposed ways to provide legal protection to these sites and offers an alternative approach.

    Monday, May 6, 2013