Neil A. Armstrong

Neil Armstrong.
Neil Armstrong

For speakers from the banquet event, see the 2004 Agenda Page.

Neil Armstrong profile, by Marianne Dyson, as published in the March 11, 2004 RNASA Program Book.

The Board of Advisors of the Rotary National Award for Space Achievement (RNASA) Foundation elected Neil Armstrong as the 2004 winner of the National Space Trophy, "For his most significant contributions to the U.S. Space Program as the first explorer to land a manned spacecraft on the Moon and the first human to step on the surface of the Moon. Mr. Armstrong is the world symbol for manned space flight exploration and engineering excellence."

Neil Alden Armstrong was born August 5, 1930, on his grandparent's farm in Wapakoneta, Ohio. He took flying lessons in an Aeronca Champion and received his pilot license on his 16th birthday, before he had his driver's license.

Armstrong's education was interrupted in 1949 when he was called to active duty. He entered pilot training at Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida. In 1950, he went to Korea where he flew 78 combat missions in an F9F-2 Panther from the carrier USS Essex.

During one run over North Korea, Armstrong's fighter was severely damaged. He made it back to a South Korean base, but was forced to eject. For his service in Korea, Armstrong received the Air Medal and two Gold Stars.

Armstrong resumed his studies and graduated from Purdue with a degree in aeronautical engineering in 1955. He earned a masters' in aerospace engineering from the University of Southern California in 1970.

Armstrong joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) at the Lewis Laboratory (now Glenn Research Center) in Cleveland in 1955. He transferred to the NACA High Speed Flight Station (now Dryden) at Edwards AFB, California in 1958 to be a test pilot. In 1960, Armstrong received his first taste of spaceflight at the controls of the X-15 rocket plane. He made seven flights, reaching speeds over Mach 5 and altitudes of over 200,000 feet.

NASA Astronaut
Armstrong became an astronaut in 1962. He served as backup crew for Gemini 5, and then was chosen to command Gemini 8.

On March 16, 1966, Armstrong and Dave Scott conducted the first successful docking in space. But shortly afterwards, the joined spacecraft began spinning out of control. Armstrong disengaged the Gemini from the Agena, but the tumbling worsened. It was later determined that a Gemini thruster had failed on. Armstrong regained control by using thrusters intended for re-entry.

Thanks to Armstrong, disaster was avoided. Though the flight had to be cut short, the primary objective had been met, and the crew splashed down safely in the Pacific.

Armstrong's successful performance on Gemini 8 led to his selection as commander of Apollo 11. His mission was to fulfill President Kennedy's goal of putting men on the moon and returning them safely to Earth. Armstrong, Mike Collins, and Buzz Aldrin launched on their historic journey on July 16, 1969.

Leaving Collins in lunar orbit, Armstrong and Aldrin approached the surface of the moon. Armstrong saw a football-stadium-sized crater out his window. "A generally undesirable landing area for the first one," he told NASA's Oral History project. "We could have tried to land there, and we might have gotten away with it," he said. But, "There were some attractive areas far more level, far less occupied by boulders and things, a half mile ahead." He found a good spot just before running out of fuel. At 2:18 p.m. Houston time on July 20, 1969, Armstrong reported, "Houston, Tranquility Base here - the Eagle has landed."

He later said, "I was absolutely dumbfounded when I shut the rocket engine off and the particles that were going radially from the bottom of the engine fell ... and instantaneously disappeared."

Armstrong took that first "one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind" at 9:56 p.m. Aldrin soon joined him. In the debriefing, Armstrong reported that he was very comfortable in the lunar gravity. "It was, in fact, in our view preferable both to weightlessness and to the Earth's gravity."

They set up the flag, accepted congratulations from President Nixon, deployed experiments, and unveiled a plaque which read, "Here men from the planet Earth first set foot on the moon July, 1969, A.D. We came in peace for all mankind."

The Eagle lifted off on July 21. Aldrin reported seeing the flag knocked over by the exhaust. They docked with Columbia, transferring 47.7 pounds of precious lunar samples. They splashed down in the Pacific on July 24, earning the praise of a nation.

Reflecting on their success, Armstrong said, "When you have hundreds of thousands of people all doing their job a little better than they have to, you get an improvement in performance. And that's the only reason we could have pulled this whole thing off."

Armstrong resigned from NASA in 1971 after serving as Deputy Associate Administrator for Aeronautics at NASA Headquarters.

Professor and Businessman
Armstrong became a Professor at the University of Cincinnati in 1971. "I most enjoyed the class interaction with the students," he told RNASA. "I taught in the areas of aeronautical engineering and rigid body mechanics."

Armstrong left teaching in 1979. From 1980 to 1982, he was Chairman of Cardwell International, Ltd. He was then Chairman of Computing Technologies for Aviation, Inc. and in 1989, became Chairman of AIL Systems, Inc. which later merged with EDO Corporation. "We had great teams of able and highly motivated people," he said when asked about his work there. "The challenge was to choose most carefully how we invested our intellectual, financial and operational resources to make our team as effective and productive as possible." Armstrong retired from EDO in 2002.

Armstrong's experience was tapped as a member of the National Commission on Space in 1985, and in 1986, as Vice Chairman of the President's Commission of the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident.

Armstrong has two grown sons. He currently resides with his wife Carol in Cincinnati, Ohio where he is active in the National Academy of Engineering and continues to fly.

Of the future, he told RNASA, "I am delighted that the President has proposed that we energize our program with a return to the moon and subsequent exploration of Mars. Funding and implementation of the proposal will require that the Congress is persuaded that the public supports the initiative. With that support, the future can be very exciting."

The RNASA Foundation agrees, and offers its sincere gratitude and recognition of the man who continues to inspire us all to follow in his giant footsteps.

Armstrong passed away on August 25, 2012.

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