From Ohio to the Moon: Neil Armstrong’s Journey as an Astronaut

Who knew that the multi-ethnical Neil Armstrong, who was born in Ohio, would one day be the first ever to walk on the surface of the moon? No one really knew until it happened. Growing up in Ohio to a state auditor father meant always contacting the moving company to transfer from one part of the state to the next. This constant movement exposed him to the Cleveland Air Races, which served as his early inspiration to be a pilot.

Naval Midshipman

Prior to becoming an astronaut, Armstrong served the Navy, first as a midshipman. His flight training was conducted in a North American SNJ trainer—which the budding pilot aced with a solo flight. With the US being involved in the Korean War, Armstrong was deployed, and he saw some action, both as an escort to a non-armed plane and five days later flying an armed reconnaissance unit over a village west of Wonsan. This familiarity with a great degree of danger, combined with his pilot skills, prepared him to be an astronaut.

NASA Career

After serving as a naval aviator, Armstrong joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which was the precursor agency to NASA, in 1955. Over the next 17 years, he became an engineer, an administrator, a test pilot, and ultimately an astronaut. The succeeding agency, NASA, was given a significant sum to research ways in which man could go to space. NASA, in turn, made investments in Armstrong and other test pilots to pioneer many high-speed aircraft. He has flown over 200 different types and models of aircraft, including gliders, rockets, jets, and helicopters, all in the name of space development.

With the Space Race starting, Armstrong saw the need to transfer to astronaut status. He was then assigned command of the Gemini 8 mission, which was launched on March 16, 1966. The newly-minted astronaut successfully docked two vehicles in space.

Apollo 11

The highlight of his career was when he was assigned as the spacecraft commander for the Apollo 11 mission, which was the first manned lunar landing mission. Armstrong gained the credit and distinction of being the first to land an aircraft on the moon successfully, and as we know, the first to walk its surface.

What many did not know was that there were several issues before they could land. First, a series of 1202 alarms went off, which Armstrong and the rest of the crew did not know the meaning off. CAPCOM Charles Duke later explained this was caused by the computer processing unnecessary data rather than a wiring or electricity failure. That aside, Armstrong noticed that the programmed landing zone was unsafe, and so he had to take manual control of the lunar module to find a safer area. His grit and practice in simulations allowed him to handle the situation to acceptable standards.

When he first stepped on the moon, he uttered the now-famous, “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” The trip back was uneventful, which was good news, and they were retrieved from the Pacific Ocean by the USS Hornet. What followed was a series of awards, TV appearances, and photo opportunities with many people. The three crew members of Apollo 11 also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, a worthy recognition of their efforts.

Post Astronaut Career

Armstrong resigned from NASA in 1971, opting to teach at a small Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Cincinnati. Considering how exclusive faculty members could be, he predicated his move to teaching with an apology to his fellow teachers, hoping they would not take it against him for starting teaching with only a master’s degree.

His fellow faculty members were actually excited to have him as well as the students. One legacy he left was creating two graduate-level classes on experimental flight mechanics and aircraft design. He also took on more classes so that he could teach a good number of students before he retired. Armstrong resigned from the university back in 1980.

Later in life, Armstrong was called by NASA to become part of Edgar Cortright’s investigation of the failed Apollo 13 mission. As expected of a researcher, he produced a detailed chronology of events and determined that a 28-volt switch in an oxygen gas tank was not replaced with the 65-volt version, leading to the explosion. The famous astronaut travelled to the stars for a final time on August 25, 2012.

Photo Sources:

Cover Photo – NASA
Photo 1 – YouTube 1:14
Photo 2 – YouTube 2:15
Photo 3 – Twitter
Photo 4 – YouTube 5:33