Great Personalities » Neil Armstrong

Neil Alden Armstrong

Neil Alden Armstrong, American Astronaut

The legendary astronaut who would later make the whole nation proud was born on August 5, 1930 in Wapakoneta, Ohio to Stephen Koenig Armstrong and Viola Louise Engel. Neil Armstrong was of Scottish, Irish, and German ancestry.

His passion to fly and become a pilot was rooted in him from an early age when his father took him to the Cleveland air races when he was a kid. Firmly deciding to become a pilot, he started taking flying lessons at Wapakoneta airfield. Armstrong’s firm dedication earned him his pilot’s license at the young age of 15. He had also earned the Eagle scouts badge in the boy’s scouts in his school.

After taking his lessons in flying, in 1947, Armstrong joined Purdue University to study aeronautical engineering. He was 17 years old and the second person from his family to go to college. Armstrong’s college tuition fees were paid by the Holloway plan.

His real journey towards becoming an aviator started when he got a call-up from the US Navy on January 26, 1949. He was to report at the Naval Air Station Pensacola. During his 18 month long training, he learned carrier landing aboard the USS Cabot and USS Wright. He was given the best birthday gift after two weeks of turning 20, when he was informed that he had become a completely qualified Naval aviator.

After working on various aircrafts which included NAS San Diego, Fighter Squadron 51, F9F-2B Panther on January 5, 1951 and making his first jet carrier landing on the USS Essex, real war action was about to begin in the Korean war on August 29, 1951. An enemy plane hit his fighter jet, but he ejected on time and was rescued.

He performed exceptionally well in this war by carrying out 78 missions in just 121 hours. For his work in the Korean War, he was awarded the Gold Star, Air Medal, Korean service medal and Engagement Star.

Armstrong joined the U.S. Naval Reserve as a Lieutenant, Junior Grade after leaving the US Navy at the age of 22, on August 23, 1952. After serving in the US Navy, he went back to Purdue University and earned his Bachelor of Science degree in aeronautical engineering in 1955.

He met Janet Elizabeth Sheoran while he was at Purdue and they later got married in Illinois on January 28, 1956. They had three children, Eric, Karen, and Mark. Karen died at the age of two due to pneumonia.

His life was already pretty exciting, but it was about to turn more glorious and exciting as he decided to become an experimental research test pilot. He wanted to join the Edwards Air Force Base but due to no vacancy there, he landed a job at the Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory, Cleveland. However, he joined the Edwards Force Base later. He was given the opportunity to fly over 200 different types of aircraft during his entire career as a test pilot.

After his successful career, both as a Naval aviator and test pilot, he applied to NASA for becoming an astronaut, a decision that would change his life. In 1958, he was informed that he was selected for the Man In Space Soonest program. In September of 1962, he became a part of the NASA astronaut corps and later went through grueling physical tests. However, he passed them and was selected for the “New Nine” the second group of nine NASA astronauts.

Armstrong’s first trip to space was aboard Gemini 8. Given the task of commanding the space capsule, he successfully managed to dock two vehicles in space. He was the first commander pilot to do so. However, this journey was cut short when the capsule rolled out.

December 23, 1968 was the day when his life changed and Armstrong’s name would be forever engraved in history. He was offered to take command of the Apollo 11 for carrying out the first manned landing on the moon. US were in competition with the Soviet Union to ensure that their country was the first to send a man on the moon.

He was prepared and trained for the mission for months and after successfully achieving this, Apollo was launched on July 16, 1969 from the Kennedy Space Center. The mission went smoothly except one scary moment where Armstrong had to manually land the spacecraft.

Armstrong landed first on the surface of the moon and he said, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” A proud moment for all, the whole country, and the world, Armstrong quoted later on, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins were also there on the moon and they started on their return trip after spending 21 hours on the moon. They landed in the Pacific Ocean on July 24, 1969. They were not astronauts anymore, but heroes. The footprints left by him and Aldrin on the moon are still there as there is no wind to remove them.

Later, in 1970, Neil had graduated from the University of Southern California with a Master of Science degree in Aerospace engineering. After his Apollo mission, Armstrong continued working for NASA. He was also a professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Cincinnati.

He was having severe health complications in 2012 and underwent vascular bypass surgery for the same on August 7, 2012. Although, his health stabilized for some time, he later developed complications in the hospital and it led to his death on August 25, in Cincinnati, Ohio. He was not just a hero of his time, but after setting foot on the moon, he became the hero of all time.

Neil Armstrong will always be an inspiration for anyone who wants to follow his or her passion and dream.

Image courtesy:

International Short Story Writing Contest for School Children