On Saturday August 25th, 43 years after he made history by becoming the first person to step on the moon, NASA astronaut Neil Armstrong passed away from complications attributed to a heart surgery he underwent earlier this month. Given the fact that the Cincinnati resident had been reported to be doing well following the procedure, the news came as a big shock to his millions of worldwide fans.
The American hero and icon who spoke the oft-repeated line "That's one small step for (a) man; one giant leap for mankind" as he looked down at his own footprint on the surface of the moon', was surprisingly, a very shy man who often referred to himself as a nerdy engineer. The fact that he was much more than that was quite evident in the few minutes leading up to the historic Lunar landing.
Four days following the successful July 16th, 1969 launch of Apollo 11 from Earth, it moved into the moon's orbit. Once that happened the Lunar module - Eagle, along with its two passengers, Neil Armstrong and Edwin 'Buzz' Aldrin, separated from the Command Module, leaving the crew's third member Michael Collins in charge.
Everything worked like clockwork until the Eagle was getting ready to land on the moon. That's when Mr. Armstrong realized that the automated computer was leading the Module to a landing surface covered with boulders and a crater. The commander quickly took over the controls and manually deviated the course and with just 25 seconds of fuel left, landed the Eagle safely on that fateful day on July, 20th 1969. Another little known fact is that while NASA was sure he and Mr. Aldrich would make it to the moon, they were not completely certain that they would be successful in coming back - Something that both the brave men were prepared for.
Fortunately, it all worked out. He and Buzz spent two and a half hours exploring the surface and collecting 47 pounds of moon rocks and soil, before blasting off and reconnecting with the Command Module that was still revolving in the moon's orbit.
The then 38-year old returned to earth a hero, receiving all kinds of honors and medals not just in the USA but also, from countries all across the globe. True to his nature, he left NASA shortly and spent the rest of his life pursuing personal engineering and aviation interests, shunning any kind of publicity, completely.
Born in the small town of Wapakonetain Ohio, Mr. Armstrong became hooked to airplanes at the tender age of six after accompanying his father on a flight aboard a Ford Trimotor airplane, called the Tin Goose. By the time he turned 15, he had already obtained his pilot's license.
Mr. Armstrong went on to get a bachelors degree in aeronautical engineering from Purdue University and a masters in aerospace engineering from the University of Southern California. In between, he served in the US navy, successfully leading 78 combat missions during the Korean War (1950-1953). Prior to joining NASA's astronaut corps in 1962, Mr. Armstrong spent seven years as a test pilot, logging flying time in over 200 different types of aircraft that included jets, rockets, helicopters, gliders and even the X-15 rocket plane.
While he may no longer be with us, Mr. Armstrong will remain an inspiration to young people all over the world. As his family succinctly puts it '“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.” .
Mr. Armstrong is not the only US Space hero we have lost this year. On July 23rd, 2012, Sally Ride, the first American woman to fly to space died following a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer. Similar to Mr. Armstrong, Ms. Ride inspired generations of youngsters, especially girls, to try reach for the stars and was one of the country's biggest advocates for greater focus on science and math in US schools.
May the two Space heroes R.I.P.