Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Today in History: Neil Armstrong Walks on Moon

Neil Armstrong became an astronaut in the early days of the U.S. space program. He was selected as commander of Apollo 11, the first moon-landing expedition. Armstrong became the first person to walk on the moon on July 20, 1969.

Armstrong was born on August 5, 1930 in Wapakoneta, Ohio. He spent his childhood there before attending college at Purdue University in Indiana, where he earned a degree in aerospace engineering. Immediately after graduating, Armstrong enlisted as a navy fighter pilot and served during the Korean War. On returning to civilian life in 1952, he became a test pilot.

Armstrong's life was soon redirected by the entry of the United States into a space race with its cold war rival, the Soviet Union. In 1957, the Soviets successfully launched the first man-made satellite, Sputnik, into orbit. Americans became fearful of Soviet superiority in space, and determined not to give the Soviets the upper hand in any arena, the United States pursued its space program in earnest. The Russians became the first to launch a person into space early in 1961.

In May of the same year, Alan Shepard became the first American man in space, and shortly after his flight, President John F. Kennedy challenged the United States to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade. Armstrong was selected to be an astronaut in 1962 with other talented test pilots. In 1966, he made his first space flight aboard Gemini 8. During that flight, he and fellow astronaut David Scott carried out the first docking maneuvers between two spacecrafts. Armstrong was among the astronauts chosen for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) next series of space missions, Apollo, which were intended to reach the moon. The ambitious program began in tragedy. On January 27, 1967, the Apollo 1 astronauts—Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee—were killed by a fire that broke out in their space capsule during a test launch.

Only two years after the disaster, NASA met Kennedy's challenge to put a man on the moon with Apollo 11. The moon landing also put the United States firmly ahead of the Soviets in the space race. Armstrong, the mission's commander, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins landed their lunar module on the moon on July 20, 1969. While the world watched on television, Armstrong, followed by Aldrin, descended from the craft to walk on the moon. As Armstrong made his descent he uttered the now famous phrase: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." The two men spent the next two hours exploring the lava plains of the Sea of Tranquility and collecting samples of lunar dust.

Armstrong left NASA in 1971, a year after publishing a book on his experiences in space, First On the Moon. He settled on a farm in his home state of Ohio with his wife and two children. From 1971 until 1979, Armstrong taught aerospace engineering, in which he holds a master's degree, at Cincinnati University. He briefly appeared in commercials as a spokesperson for Chrysler. He is currently the chairperson of a defense electronics firm in Ohio. Though Armstrong has led a purposefully private life since leaving NASA, he made several appearances in July 1994 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Apollo 11's moon landing, including an appearance with President Bill Clinton and his fellow Apollo 11 astronauts at the White House.

"Neil Armstrong." American History. ABC-CLIO, 2011. Web. 20 July 2011.

Additional Resources:

History Committee of the American Astronautical Society
A complete history of human endeavors in space, this book also moves beyond the traditional topics of human spaceflight, space technology, and space science to include political, social, cultural, and economic issues, and also commercial, civilian, and military applications.


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