On 21 July 1969, Neil Armstrong uttered the famous words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” as he placed his foot upon the soil of the moon, the first man ever to stand or walk on the moon. These words, and the moon landing of the Apollo 11 mission, are perhaps some of the most memorable of the 20th century. Many people who witnessed the first moon landing in 1969 comment that it is one of the most impressive memories in the history of their lives. Armstrong was the quintessential astronaut; sometimes overshadowing those other NASA astronauts who bravely risked their lives and sometimes lost them in the Space Race to the moon. In particular, some are apt to forget that Buzz Aldrin also walked on the moon with Armstrong during that historic mission.
Neil Armstrong’s road to the moon began inauspiciously enough with his birth in 1930. Like Jim Lovell and several others who would serve in the NASA program, Armstrong was an avid scout, earning the rank of Eagle Scout. This was more difficult for Armstrong to accomplish, since his father and family moved repeatedly around his birth state of Ohio (His father was an Ohioan government official). The Armstrong family’s last move, back to his birth town of Wapakoneta, at least allowed Armstrong to finish high school, where he exhibited a strong aptitude for the sciences. This led him to first study at Purdue University, where he pursued a major in aeronautical engineering.
Money problems meant that continuation of college would have to be put on hold for Neil Armstrong. He was able to attend Purdue under the Holloway Plan, which gave full tuition for two years and then required three years of military service before beneficiaries of the scholarship could complete their four-year degrees. In 1949, Neil Armstrong was called to serve the Navy, and did so as a pilot, taking part in the Korean War and logging numerous flights. He officially left military service in 1960, but returned to Purdue in the mid 1950s to finish his degree, where he met and married his first wife, Janet Shearon. The couple had three children together, but lost their daughter Karen, when she was three.
Armstrong officially became an astronaut in 1962. His early missions were with the Gemini program, and he was on both the Gemini 8 and Gemini 11 flights. These earlier flights would be far eclipsed by the Apollo 11 mission, with Armstrong as commander. Armstrong has stated in interviews since the flight that he was only 50% certain the flight would even land on the moon, and he does admit to some fears and difficulties while traveling in space. After the success of the Apollo 11 mission, he declared his intent of not flying in space again. He continued to briefly serve NASA, but left in 1971 to pursue a career as professor at the University of Cincinnati.
The career of Neil Armstrong has been diverse. He did participate in the investigation of the Challenger shuttle disaster of 1985, and has served as a spokesman on many occasions. He’s also participated or headed boards for a variety of companies, and in 1979 became an official spokesman for Chrysler. He expressed disinterest in a political career though he was approached by both the Democrats and Republicans to run in a variety of positions. Armstrong and Shearon divorced in 1994, and Neil Armstrong remarried, to Carol Held Knight, shortly after his divorce was finalized.