A Quiet, Nerdy Engineer

Neil Armstrong

Neil Armstrong has passed at the age of 82. Yesterday, Fox News reported Armstrong regarded himself as, “a quiet, nerdy engineer.” Well, he may have considered himself in those terms, but for many of us, he was the nation’s hero, the man who was the first to walk on the moon.

Armstrong developed an interest in aviation at a young age. This steered him to Purdue to major in aeronautical engineering. As a participant of the Holloway Plan, the Navy paid the cost of Armstrong’s education. The program consisted of the first two years of college, followed by three years of active duty naval service. After naval service, the applicant returned to school to finish his degree.

In January 1949, Armstrong reported to NAS Pensacola to begin flight training. After training and at the age of 20, Armstrong won his Wings of Gold. After his initial assignment, he soon found himself on orders to the Screaming Eagles of VF-51 and transition into jet fighters. After approximately six months of jet training and carrier qualifications, Armstrong departed for the Korean War as a fighter pilot aboard the USS Essex.

During his time flying off the Essex and into Korea, Armstrong logged 121 hours of combat time flying 78 missions. After returning from the war, Armstrong advanced from ensign to lieutenant junior grade. He also left naval service at this time to return to Purdue to resume his academic studies while serving in the naval reserves.

Armstrong decided his life would be that of a test pilot. This led to interesting assignments at Edwards AFB where he eventually found his way into the astronaut corps. In his service as a spaceman, Armstrong became famous as the first man to walk on the surface of the moon, but he also did much more as one of the few civilian astronauts in the program.

His first flight into space was in the Gemini program as command pilot of Gemini 8. He flew with David Scott, the pilot responsible for the flying one of the most complicated rendezvous missions in space to date. The mission launched on March 16, 1966, and Armstrong and Scott were the first to dock their space vehicle to another.

During the time they were docked, one of the thrusters on the Gemini capsule failed. The craft started tumbling in space and Armstrong was able to regain control of the capsule. He and Scott then made the first emergency landing of a space vehicle.

Armstrong was not to fly again until the famous Apollo 11 mission of July 1969. It was a mission President Kennedy promised the world the Americans would accomplish. We did. And Neil Armstrong was the commander of that mission.

As the commander, he would be the first to descend the steps of the Lunar Module and step onto the surface of the moon. As the command module approached the moon, every available television set in the world carried the transmissions live, from outer space.  Everyone worldwide collectively held his or her breath as the Lunar Module separated and headed for the Sea of Tranquility.

The Lunar Module touched down on the surface of the moon at 2017 UTC (4:17 pm EDT) on July 20, 1969. A little more than six and a half hours later, the world watched as Armstrong descended the ladder of the LM to step onto the surface of the moon.

Anyone alive at the time capable of conscious memory remembers that moment. Man first walking on the moon truly has to be the defining moment of mankind’s existence on this planet. Nothing in our history surpasses that achievement.

(Found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RMINSD7MmT4.)

In the years since Armstrong has maintained a low profile. Hence, his description of himself as “a quiet, nerdy engineer.” However, quiet, nerdy engineers typically do not fly combat missions in jets off aircraft carriers, test supersonic jets, and certainly, they do not walk on the moon.

Neil Armstrong is probably now walking in the Sea of Tranquility once again. Fair winds and following seas.


©2012 J. Clark

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2 Responses to A Quiet, Nerdy Engineer

  1. Harrison says:

    Very nice, Joe. I once had the pleasure of having Neil on a flight from CVG to LAX. He was a very unassuming guy and you would have enjoyed joining our conversation. I doubt if the guy sitting next to him in First Class knew who he was. When I went back to attend my physiological needs, he was sitting there drinking coffee and reading Aviation Week like any other pilot would be doing. Thank God I didn’t embarrass myself on the landing.

  2. Joe Clark says:

    Thank you, Harrison. Yesterday was the first day of the semester and I was a little too busy to post on the blog. And yes, I would have enjoyed that coversation…

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