Astronaut of the Month - Neil Armstrong
Neil Armstrong was born in Ohio on August 16, 1930. He fell in love with flying as a young boy when his father took him up for a short flight. He earned his pilot’s license before his driver’s license, so it was probably no surprise to anyone when his higher education was paid for by the Navy.
Beginning in 1951, Armstrong served in Korea, flying a total of 78 missions. One particular mission nearly ended in catastrophe. Though stories vary, the combat flight ended in Armstrong ditching the plane over friendly territory. After completing active service, Armstrong remained in the Navy Reserve until 1960.
As a civilian, Armstrong became a test pilot, eventually joining the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). Throughout his career, he would fly more than 200 different models of aircraft. But as much flying as Armstrong was doing, space was a new, even more exciting frontier.
In June of 1958, Armstrong was chosen for a US Air Force program called the Man in Space Soonest. Unfortunately, the funding was cancelled in August. On October 1, 1958, Armstrong became an employee of the newly created National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) when it absorbed NACA. The Mercury Program superseded the earlier program on November 5th, however as a NASA pilot, Armstrong was ineligible to apply.
Those restrictions were lifted for the Gemini Program, and Armstrong joined officially in 1962. His first spaceflight was on March 16, 1966 as Commander of Gemini 8, during which he and David Scott were able to successfully perform the first orbital docking of 2 spacecraft. However an in-flight system failure forced them to land 3 days early.
Armstrong’s next space mission would be watched live around the world, and remains perhaps the most famous of all. As the Commander of Apollo 11, Neil Armstrong was the first human to step foot on the moon on July 20, 1969. After piloting the landing craft, he and Buzz Aldrin spent 2.5 hours on the lunar surface. He, Aldrin, and Mike Collins would safely re-enter Earth’s atmosphere on July 24th.