The man whose little steps made the giant leap possible

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By Staff /  26 Aug 2012 , 11:33

Often dismissed as distant, the late Neil Armstrong’s quality, of never leaving anything to chance, augured well as he came into world spotlight to become the first man to land on the moon.

In 1962, NASA announced openings for a second group of astronauts to follow the legendary Mercury Seven, writes Kathy Sawyer in this Washington Post magazine article.

“Space is the frontier,” Armstrong told a fellow pilot, “and that’s where I intend to go,” after applying for the mission.

That the first moon landing fell to Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins was, to a large extent, the luck of the draw. Had there been more setbacks such as the tragic fire that killed three astronauts inside an Apollo capsule during a ground test in 1967, the lineup could have been very different, writes Kathy Sawyer.

An audience estimated at 500 million watched on television and millions more tuned in by radio as Armstrong became the first human to step onto an alien world.

As Sawyers documents the man that was Armstrong it becomes clear that the qualities that stood him in good stead were his ability to learn from history.

Armstrong’s mate in the moon landing mission Buzz Aldrin recounts to Sawyers how he made sure that nothing was left to chance in the landing that made history.

Whether as an astronaut, naval combat aviator, test pilot, civil servant, engineer, absent-minded professor, gentleman farmer, businessman, civic booster, amateur musician, husband or father, Neil Armstrong followed his own code.

He made sure that the recognition he earned from the world did not hinder his private, personal life.

Nothing illustrates this more perfectly than an incident that occurred 10 years after his moon landing. After a day of relaxation, as Armstrong got off his truck and got his finger stuck in the latch and tore the tip.

Neil Armstrong.

He coolly got some ice, gathered the tip and set off for the hospital. After a microsurgery Armstrong made all efforts to convince reporters the injury was not news. Despite creating history, Armstrong was a rare man who did not succumb to the lure of fame. He was happy to accept a post at the University of Cincinnati as a professor.

Armstrong left the university abruptly on New Year’s Day 1980. He declined to comment at the time, and the only reason he’s ever given for leaving is that he felt it was time to move on and do other things. But colleagues suspect it was because of his continuing discomfort with campus politics, writes Sawyers.

In a rare 1979 interview with the Cincinnati Post, Armstrong said the problem with accommodating the demands of the media was that it was too time-consuming.

Read Sawyers long and extensive piece from the ’60s here.


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