After getting his flight certificate at the age of 15, before he could drive a car, there was little doubt that Armstrong would make his career as a pilot. Following a distinguished career with the US Navy, during which he saw action in the Korean War and also worked as a test pilot, he worked full-time as an experimental research test pilot.
Working from Edwards Air Force Base, Armstrong flew a number of aircraft including the B-29 Superfortress, the Bell X-!B, the T-33 Shooting Star and the North American X-15. It is estimated that throughout his career Armstrong flew over 200 different models of aircraft, many of them experimental.
In 1958 he was selected for the US Air Force Man in Space Soonest program. After many different selection procedures and gruelling training Armstrong was appointed as the command pilot for the Gemini 8 mission which launched on 16 March 1966.
It is for his role in the Apollo 11 mission that Armstrong has made his place in history. Armstrong piloted the lunar module Eagle and made the first ever moon landing on 20 July 1969. For those that like to know the full details the exact time of the Eagle’s landing on the lunar surface was 20:17:39 UTC (this is the scientific standard that has replaced Greenwich Mean Time).
Armstrong’s words as he touched the moon’s surface are among the most famous of all-time. That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” The ‘a’ is in brackets as Armstrong did not actually say the word at the time although he had intended to. NASA later said that it was due to static that the word was not heard.
It is estimated that as he spoke the words some 450 million people heard him live (out of a total world population of 3.63 billion). The worldwide television audience for the Apollo 11 moon landing is still easily the biggest of all-time.
Following the return to Earth of the crew of the Apollo they were treated like heroes but this did not sit well with Armstrong. He particularly go tired of constantly being asked what it was like to be the first man on the moon and he stopped giving interviews, becoming something of a recluse.
Neil Armstrong died on 25 August 2012 at a hospital in Columbus, Ohio, from complications following surgery to relieve his blocked coronary arteries.
As you would expect for such a major figure in our history there have been many tributes paid to Armstrong including one from President Barack Obama who said that Armstrong: “was among the greatest of American heroes – not just of his time, but of all time. …
“Today, Neil’s spirit of discovery lives on in all the men and women who have devoted their lives to exploring the unknown – including those who are ensuring that we reach higher and go further in space. That legacy will endure – sparked by a man who taught us the enormous power of one small step.”