“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” – Neil Armstrong

Filed under: Kennedy Space Center |

The words “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” will forever be immortalized with the day man walked on the moon for the very first time at 20:17:39 UTC on July 20, 1969. They were words uttered by astronaut Neil Alden Armstrong and they were words that millions of people heard as they tuned into their primitive style television sets.

Although TV sets had been around for a while before the moon landing most people around the globe were tuning into the moon landing broadcast on black and white screens.  I was a mere youngster living in the UK back then and I still distinctly remember my family and friends crowding around the screen as we held our breath to see if the landing would happen… it would be a close call.

To give you an idea of how the moon landing and TV came together you need to realize that only 0.5% of U.S. households had a television in 1946, 55.7% had one in 1954, and 90% by 1962. In Britain, there were 15,000 television households in 1947, 1.4 million in 1952, and 15.1 million by 1968. As a result, the moon landing was a big deal and it really was one of the first major events to be broadcast live. Color TV’s came around in the early 1970s so that’s why a lot of the video footage you see is in black and white!

It is with sadness that we reflect on the passing of Neil Armstrong, aged 82, yesterday, 25th August 2012. Armstrong was born on 5th August 1930 and his life really was all about adventure and flight. It was on July 20, 1936, that he experienced his first airplane flight in Warren, Ohio, aged 6.  His father took him on a ride in a Ford Trimotor,also known as the “Tin Goose”, and a love for aviation was born.

Armstrong was a United States Navy officer who served in the Korean War before he became an astronaut, having  graduated from Purdue University and the University of Southern California, after studying aerospace engineering. Following his graduation from Purdue, Armstrong decided to become an experimental research test pilot and Armstrong’s call-up from the Navy arrived on January 26, 1949, requiring him to report to Naval Air Station Pensacola for flight training. This lasted almost 18 months, during which he qualified for carrier landing aboard the USS Cabot and USS Wright. On August 16, 1950, two weeks after his 20th birthday, Armstrong was informed by letter he was a fully qualified Naval Aviator.

Armstrong saw action in the Korean War but is was as an astronaut that he made his name. In 1958, he was selected for the U.S. Air Force’s “Man in Space Soonest” program and after President Kennedy’s proclamation on May 25, 1961 to put a man on the moon before the end of the 60’s decade, Armstrong was asked to join the NASA Astronaut Corps as part of what the press dubbed “the New Nine.”

The crew assignments for Gemini 8 were announced on September 20, 1965, with Armstrong as Command Pilot and David Scott as Pilot. The mission launched on March 16, 1966 with the goal of making a rendezvous and docking with the unmanned Agena target vehicle. In total the mission was planned to last 75 hours and 55 orbits. The rendezvous and first ever docking between two spacecraft was successfully completed after 6.5 hours in orbit.

After Armstrong served as backup commander for Apollo 8, he was offered the post of commander of Apollo 11 with Buzz Aldrin being selected as lunar module pilot and Michael Collins as command module pilot. The launch was scheduled for July 16th 1969 and the Apollo spacecraft duly launched via a Saturn V rocket which consisted of three parts; a Command Module with a cabin for the three astronauts ( the only part that would come back to earth); a Service Module containing propulsion, electrical power, oxygen and water ; and a Lunar Module for landing on the Moon.

The objective of Apollo 11 was simply to land safely rather than to touch down with precision on a particular spot. Three minutes into the lunar descent burn, Armstrong noted that craters were passing about two seconds too early, which meant the Eagle Lunar Module would probably touch down beyond the planned landing zone by several miles. When Armstrong noticed they were heading towards a landing area which he believed was unsafe, he took over manual control of the Lunar Module, and attempted to find an area which seemed safer, taking longer than expected, and longer than most simulations had taken. For this reason, there was concern from mission control that the Lunar Module was running low on fuel.

Upon landing, Aldrin and Armstrong believed they had about 40 seconds worth of fuel left, including the 20 seconds worth of fuel which had to be saved in the event of an abort. During training, Armstrong had landed the LLTV with less than 15 seconds left on several occasions, and he was also confident the Lunar Module could survive a straight-down fall from 50 feet (15 m) if needed. Analysis after the mission showed that at touchdown there were 45 to 50 seconds of propellant burn time left.

The landing on the surface of the moon occurred at 20:17:39 UTC on July 20, 1969. When a sensor attached to the legs of the still hovering Lunar Module made lunar contact, a panel light inside the LM lit up and Aldrin called out, “Contact light.” As the Lunar Module settled on the surface Aldrin then said, “Okay. Engine stop,” and Armstrong said, “Shutdown.” The first words Armstrong intentionally spoke to Mission Control and the world from the lunar surface were, “Houston, Tranquility Basehere. The Eagle has landed.”

Aldrin and Armstrong celebrated with a brisk handshake and pat on the back before quickly returning to the checklist of tasks needed to ready the lunar module for liftoff from the Moon should an emergency unfold during the first moments on the lunar surface.During the critical landing, the only message from Houston was “30 seconds”, meaning the amount of fuel left. When Armstrong had confirmed touch-down, Houston expressed their worries during the manual landing as “You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again.”

Although the official NASA flight plan called for a crew rest period before extra-vehicular activity, Armstrong requested the first walk be moved to earlier in the evening.Once Armstrong and Aldrin were ready to go outside, Eagle was depressurized, the hatch was opened and Armstrong made his way down the ladder first.

At the bottom of the ladder, Armstrong said “I’m going to step off the LEM now” (referring to the Apollo Lunar Module). He then turned and set his left boot on the surface at 2:56 UTC July 21, 1969,then spoke the famous words “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

And the rest is history.

After Apollo, Armstrong received many honors and awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, the Robert H. Goddard Memorial Trophy, the Sylvanus Thayer Award, the Collier Trophy  from the National Aeronautics Association, and the Congressional GoldMedal.  The lunar crater “Armstrong”, 31 mi (50 km) from the Apollo 11 landing site, and asteroid 6469 Armstrong are named in his honor. Armstrong was also inducted into the Aerospace Walk of Honor and the United States Astronaut Hall of Fame.Armstrong and his Apollo 11 crewmates were also the 1999 recipients of the Langley Gold Medal from the Smithsonian Institution and throughout the United States, there are more than a dozen elementary, middle and high schools named in his honor,and many places around the world have streets, buildings, schools, and other places named for Armstrong and/or Apollo.

After his death yesterday, the Armstrong’s family also released a statement that read “[he was a] reluctant American hero [and had] served his nation proudly, as a navy fighter pilot, test pilot, and astronaut. While we mourn the loss of a very good man, we also celebrate his remarkable life and hope that it serves as an example to young people around the world to work hard to make their dreams come true, to be willing to explore and push the limits, and to selflessly serve a cause greater than themselves.”

“For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.” This prompted many responses including the Twitter hashtag “#WinkAtTheMoon”.

There’s not really much else to add to what was an amazing life. Every person on the planet today has much to thank Neil Armstrong and his colleagues at NASA for. It’s why we highly encourage everyone visiting Florida to visit Kennedy Space Center at least once during their stay. There’s so much history to see and so much to learn about our planet.

RIP Neil Armstrong. God Speed.




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