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Hero among heroes final flight — Neil Armstrong

26 August 2012

Hero among heroes final flight — Neil Armstrong

Neil Armstrong works on Eagle while on the  lunar surface in 1969 — Buzz Aldrin NASA photo

Neil Armstrong has passed away at the age of 82. It is too soon to recall his entire life, that is for the days to come and by others than this blog. It is time to reflect on the man and what he did.

We know, of course, he was the first of a pair of men to land on the Moon as well as the first human to tread on the lunar surface. Who cannot recall the visceral, instinctual, feeling seeing that boot print in the Moon’s soil? Lugs having made an impression as deep as your thumb it seemed, the track evenly weighted with a bit more depth at the toe end — indicating movement that was deliberate with no hurry.

Portrait of Neil Armstrong during his NASA era — NASA photo

But that print came after a career in the U.S. Navy where he flew combat missions in the Korean War. He lost part of a wing just twenty feet above ground but flew to a safe distance to successfully eject over friendly territory. Not his last time he flew out of a serious problem. Professionals do make hard look easy.

He went on to fly 200 aircraft types according to one reference. As a test pilot he flew the F-100, F-104 and F-106 — quite enough for almost anyone but he also flew the X-1A and X-15. He made the longest flight of the X-15 when a mistake had his ship skip off the atmosphere taking him beyond his landing site but he brought his X-15 back to its intended destination with only seconds of flight time to spare. Not his last time he would be fly out of a serious problem.

Gemini 8, with Neil Armstrong aboard and piloting in 1966, began to uncontrollably spin at one revolution per second while orbiting Earth but he was able to address the misfiring thruster and correct the issue before being rendered unconscious — again, working the problem calmly — NASA leadership was impressed with his calm demeanor during the episode.

The final 60 seconds of Eagle’s flight — the lunar module he was flying down to the Moon with Buzz Aldrin to be the first humans on the Moon — was heart stopping. Armstrong calmly and deliberately  switched to manual control after observing the navigation marks were arriving too quickly. Eagle would overshoot its intended landing spot and by a lot, in fact they were heading to a boulder strewn area of  the Moon. During that perilous last minute, all NASA could do, all anyone could do, was wait and see what Armstrong would be able to do. We all know he landed successfully, but most do not recall that he used most of the time and most of the fuel to best land Eagle — wisely using his most precious of resources of fuel and time to maximize control of the situation. Just another time he flew out of a serious situation.

Lunar Module suspended above the Moon Rock Café in the Kennedy Space Center — photo by Joseph May

A regular person in a bad situation usually says something like, “I don’t want to die!” or, “I’m going to die!”

A calm person might say, “I’ve got 5 minutes left.”

A professional says, “Shoot, I’ve got 5 minutes to work this!” — such a man was Neil Armstrong.

That, to me, is what Neil Armstrong has shown us — strength and dedication. Working the problem while the forces of chaos and entropy vie to tear things asunder — channeling adrenaline for beneficial use instead of allowing primal instincts to control thought and action. He did not seek publicity or self promotion, he was a quiet professional. He was a man who used his training and experience to complete the mission calmly and deliberately without fanfare. He was also the first to set foot upon the surface of the Moon. Tonight, perhaps gaze up into the night sky and ponder the Moon and ponder Neil Armstrong’s lifetime achievements as well as his quality of person.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 26 August 2012 05:53

    God speed, Neil!

  2. David "Mac" McLay permalink
    6 September 2012 01:46

    Thanks for publishing that tribute to an American hero, Joe. I named my first child (Robert Neil) after our pioneering lunar astronaut, and it was a time (1969) when the world admired and respected our accomplishments. We are still the best in so many fields (witness the recent successful and incredibly-complex Mars Lander mission), and we need not apologise to anyone!

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