Sunday, August 26, 2012

Neil Armstrong

Neil Alden Armstrong (August 5, 1930 – August 25, 2012) was an American astronaut, test pilot, aerospace engineer, university professor and United States Naval Aviator. He was the first person to walk on the Moon. Before becoming an astronaut, Armstrong was a United States Navy officer and had served in the Korean War. After the war, he served as a test pilot at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics High-Speed Flight Station, now known as the Dryden Flight Research Center, where he logged over 900 flights. He graduated from Purdue University and the University of Southern California.

A participant in the U.S. Air Force's Man In Space Soonest and X-20 Dyna-Soar human spaceflight programs, Armstrong joined the NASA Astronaut Corps in 1962. His first spaceflight was the NASA Gemini 8 mission in 1966, for which he was the command pilot, becoming one of the first U.S. civilians in space. On this mission, he performed the first manned docking of two spacecraft with pilot David Scott.

Armstrong's second and last spaceflight was as mission commander of the Apollo 11 moon landing in July 1969. On this mission, Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin descended to the lunar surface and spent 2½ hours exploring, while Michael Collins remained in orbit in the Command Module. Armstrong was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Richard Nixon along with Collins and Aldrin, the Congressional Space Medal of Honor by President Jimmy Carter in 1978, and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2009.

On August 25, 2012, Armstrong died in Cincinnati, Ohio, at the age of 82 due to complications from blocked coronary arteries.

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Neil Armstrong, who made the “giant leap for mankind” as the first human to set foot on the moon, died on Saturday. He was 82. His family said in a statement that the cause was “complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures.” He had undergone heart bypass surgery this month in Cincinnati, near where he lived. His recovery had been going well, according to those who spoke with him after the surgery, and his death came as a surprise to many close to him, including his fellow Apollo astronauts. The family did not say where he died.

A quiet, private man, at heart an engineer and crack test pilot, Mr. Armstrong made history on July 20, 1969, as the commander of the Apollo 11 spacecraft on the mission that culminated the Soviet-American space race in the 1960s. President John F. Kennedy had committed the nation “to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth.” It was done with more than five months to spare.

On that day, Mr. Armstrong and his co-pilot, Col. Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., known as Buzz, steered their lunar landing craft, Eagle, to a level, rock-strewn plain near the southwestern shore of the Sea of Tranquillity. It was touch and go the last minute or two, with computer alarms sounding and fuel running low. But they made it.

“Houston, Tranquillity Base here,” Mr. Armstrong radioed to mission control. “The Eagle has landed.” “Roger, Tranquillity,” mission control replied. “We copy you on the ground. You’ve got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a lot.” The same could have been said for hundreds of millions of people around the world watching on television.

A few hours later, there was Mr. Armstrong bundled in a white spacesuit and helmet on the ladder of the landing craft. Planting his feet on the lunar surface, he said, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” (His words would become the subject of a minor historical debate, as to whether he said “man” or an indistinct “a man.”)

Soon Colonel Aldrin joined Mr. Armstrong, bounding like kangaroos in the low lunar gravity, one sixth that of Earth’s, while the command ship pilot, Michael Collins, remained in orbit about 60 miles overhead, waiting their return. In all, 12 American astronauts walked on the moon between then and the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.

The Apollo 11 mission capped a tumultuous and consequential decade. The ’60s in America had started with such promise, with the election of a youthful president, mixed with the ever-present anxieties of the cold war. Then it touched greatness in the civil rights movement, only to implode in the years of assassinations and burning city streets and campus riots. But before it ended, human beings had reached that longtime symbol of the unreachable.

The moonwalk lasted 2 hours and 19 minutes, long enough to let the astronauts test their footing in the fine and powdery surface — Mr. Armstrong noted that his boot print was less than an inch deep — and set up a television camera and scientific instruments and collect rock samples.

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The US astronaut Neil Armstrong secured his place in history on 20 July 1969, when, as commander of the Apollo 11 spacecraft, he was the first man to set foot on the moon, and made his famous statement: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Armstrong, who has died aged 82, was accompanied on that epic journey by Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, the pilot of the lunar landing module with the call sign Eagle, and Michael Collins, pilot of the command module with the call sign Columbia.

The crew of Apollo 11 were not chosen for the mission because they were in any way special among the elite group of test pilots who comprised the corps of American astronauts: it was simply their turn on the flight roster. If an earlier plan had succeeded, the crew of Apollo 10 would have made the first moon walk in May 1969, but because of delays in the development of the lunar module that mission became a full dress rehearsal for a lunar landing, all bar a touchdown.

Armstrong cut his teeth as an astronaut in March 1966 as commander of the Gemini 8. The mission also involved the first serious space emergency, highlighting the dangers of manned space launches when the public were beginning to take their seemingly effortless success for granted. The Gemini 8 mission was designed to perform the first docking in space by astronauts. The Soviet Union had already demonstrated automated docking of two unmanned vehicles in orbit. Armstrong and his crewmate, David Scott, were to rendezvous with a 7,000lb Agena rocket target vehicle.

They found the Agena and docked successfully, but when they tried a pre-arranged manoeuvre of the combined spacecraft it went into a spin. Armstrong disengaged from the Agena, thinking the problem was there, but the tumbling worsened. The Agena steadied but the Gemini capsule kept turning at 360 degrees a second and was in danger of colliding with the Agena.

The fault was clearly on Gemini. It was discovered later that one of 16 Gemini thruster rockets was stuck. As he was unable to stop the spacecraft turning with the main thrusters, Armstrong shut them down and brought the Gemini craft under control using a second set of 16 thrusters that were intended only to control the capsule's re-entry in to the Earth's atmosphere.

Mission Control ordered Armstrong and Scott to cut the flight short and they splashed down in a contingency recovery area in the Pacific Ocean. The drama of surviving man's first space emergency completely obscured the fact that it was on the Gemini 8 mission that the US had overtaken the Soviet Union in space technology.

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ASTRONAUTS do not like to be called heroes. Their standard riposte to such accusations is to point out that it requires the efforts of hundreds of thousands of backroom engineers, mathematicians and technicians to make space flight possible. They are right, too: at the height of its pomp, in 1966, NASA was spending about 4.4% of the American government’s entire budget, employing something like 400,000 workers among the agency and its contractors.

But it never works. For Neil Armstrong, who commanded Apollo 11, the mission that landed men on the moon on July 20th 1969, the struggle against heroism seemed particularly futile. The achievement of his crew, relayed live on television, held the entire planet spellbound. On their return to Earth, the astronauts were mobbed. Presidents, prime ministers and kings jostled to be seen with them. Schools, buildings and roads were named after them. Medals were showered upon them. A whirlwind post-flight tour took them to 25 countries in 35 days.

As the first man to walk on another world, Armstrong received the lion’s share of the adulation. All the while, he quietly insisted that the popular image of the hard-charging astronaut braving mortal danger the way other men might brave a trip to the dentist was exaggerated. “For heaven’s sake, I loathe danger,” he told one interviewer before his fateful flight. Done properly, he opined, spaceflight ought to be no more dangerous than mixing a milkshake.

Indeed, the popular image of the “right stuff” possessed by the astronaut corps—the bravery, the competitiveness, the swaggering machismo—was never the full story. The symbol of the test-pilot school at Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave desert, where Armstrong spent years testing military jets, is a slide rule over a stylised fighter jet. In an address to America’s National Press Club in 2000, Armstrong offered the following self-portrait: “I am, and ever will be, a white-socks, pocket-protector, nerdy engineer, born under the second law of thermodynamics, steeped in steam tables, in love with free-body diagrams, transformed by Laplace and propelled by compressible flow.”

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Armstrong underwent a heart-bypass surgery earlier this month to relieve blocked coronary arteries. As commander of the Apollo 11 mission, Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the moon, hours after Apollo's Eagle lunar module had touched down on July 20 1969. He radioed back to Earth the historic statement: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." He then spent nearly three hours walking on the moon with fellow astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin.

Praising Armstrong as a "reluctant American hero," his family said in a statement on Saturday that he had "served his nation proudly, as a navy fighter pilot, test pilot, and astronaut." “Neil was our loving husband, father, grandfather, brother and friend. “Neil Armstrong was also a reluctant American hero who always believed he was just doing his job. He served his Nation proudly, as a navy fighter pilot, test pilot, and astronaut." The British astronomer Sir Patrick Moore said: "As the first man on the moon, he broke all records. He was a man who had all the courage in the world."

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"As long as there are history books, Neil Armstrong will be included in them," said Charles Bolden. "As we enter this next era of space exploration, we do so standing on the shoulders of Neil Armstrong. We mourn the passing of a friend, fellow astronaut and true American hero." Armstrong took two trips into space. He made his first journey in 1966 as commander of the Gemini 8 mission, which nearly ended in disaster. Armstrong kept his cool and brought the spacecraft home safely after a thruster rocket malfunctioned and caused it to spin wildly out of control. During his next space trip in July 1969, Armstrong and fellow astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins blasted off in Apollo 11 on a nearly 250,000-mile journey to the moon that went down in the history books. It took them four days to reach their destination.

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“For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.”

Neil Armstrong's family release statement announcing his death Here.

When Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the moon, on July 20, 1969, he uttered a phrase that has been carved in stone and quoted across the planet: "That's one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind." The grainy black-and-white television images of him taking his first lunar stroll were watched by an estimated 600 million people worldwide — and firmly established him as one of the great heroes of the 20th century.

For the usually taciturn Armstrong, the poetic statement was a rare burst of eloquence, a sound bite for the ages that only increased his fame. He was never comfortable with celebrity he saw as an accident of fate, for stepping on the moon ahead of fellow astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin. The reticent, self-effacing Armstrong would shun the spotlight for much of the rest of his life. In a rare public appearance, in 2000, Armstrong cast himself in another light: "I am, and ever will be, a white-sock, pocket-protector, nerdy engineer."

History would beg to disagree. And when Armstrong and his two fellow crew members lifted off from Earth in Apollo 11, "they carried with them the aspirations of an entire nation," Obama said. "They set out to show the world that American spirit can see beyond what seems unimaginable — that with enough drive and ingenuity, anything is possible."

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Neil Armstrong in Picture, Here.

Life: Up Close with Apollo 11 Here.

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