Saturday, August 25, 2012

Neil Armstrong

Neil Armstrong poses in front of X-15 #1.  He was one of the test pilots who flew the X-15 to the edge of space.
Today we mark a sad day for the world.  Neil Alden Armstrong has passed away.  Many remember him because of a few words he said on July 20th, 1969.  "One small step for man, one giant leap for Mankind."  He was the first person to set foot on the Moon, so something was required.

How did Armstrong get where he was?  Start in Ohio where he was born and a mother who made sure her children would learn and be happy.  By the time Neil was in the 1st grade he had already read 90 books.  He skipped 2nd grade because he was reading on a 5th grade level.  In high school science and math were two of his passions.  He would tutor others in both areas.  He was an Eagle Scout.  He received his private pilot's license before his driver's license.  Starting at age seven he was working odd jobs like mowing grass.  To pay for his flight lessons, he worked as a mechanic at the airport.  During the Korean War he flew 78 combat missions off the deck of USS Essex.  On one mission a cable strung across a North Korean valley sheared part of a wing off, he nursed the plane back over friendly lines before bailing out.  After Korea he went to Purdue to earn his degree.  Then it was off to Edwards AFB and being a test pilot where he flew the X-15.  He spent seven years at Edwards.  He and his wife Janet restored an old ranger's cabin in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains to raise their three children.  This idyllic life was broken when his daughter Karen died of a brain tumor.  Next project for Armstrong was the Boeing X-20 Dyna-Soar project, a reusable space plane the USAF want to launch from Titan boosters.  Neil was accepted for astronaut training in 1962 and in 1963 the X-20 was cancelled.

Armstrong's first mission in space almost became his last.  Him and David Scott were launched in Gemini 8 in 1966.  Gemini 8 set a first when it docked with an Agena target, first in space docking.  And then all hell broke loose when an attitude control thruster started mis-firing.  The capsule spun and bucked like a thing possessed.  Only by shutting down the main RCS and then using the re-entry thrusters was Armstrong able to bring Gemini 8 under control.  Armstrong and Scott then executed a pin-point emergency splash down next to the recovery ship.

Gemini 8's nose can be seen in lower left corner.  Center of picture is the Agena target Armstrong and Scott will dock with.
For the Apollo missions, crews were assembled early on.  For Apollo 8, Aldrin and Armstrong were part of the back up crew with Fred Haise. 
Back-up crew for Apollo 8 suit up for egress training. Armstrong and Aldrin.
Apollo 8 was famous for many things.  Launched at Christmas time 1968.  First spacecraft to orbit another planetary body.  And of course for reading a passage from Genesis.  One less known first, LM pilot William Anders was the first man born in Hong Kong to orbit the Moon.  Frank Borman would later run Eastern Airlines.  While James Lovell would command Apollo 13 and lead his crew through a harrowing time when their Service Module was crippled by an explosion.

And then it came time to pick the crew for Apollo 11.  Armstrong and Aldrin were teamed with Collins.  Whether 11 would be the first landing mission depended upon the success of Apollos 9 and 10.  Apollo 9 would test in Earth orbit everything needed for a lunar landing including separating the LM from the CM, have the LM fire its rockets, and rendezvous with the CM.  Then splashing down.  This was a real make or break for the while program because Grumman had been battling so many issues with the LM.  But it came through and the stage was set for Apollo 10.  Apollo 10 should be called the most frustrating mission.  Apollo 10's Command Module was named Charlie Brown while the Lunar Module was named Snoopy. would go the Moon, orbit, two men would climb into the LM, fire the descent stage, and descend within 50,000ft of the lunar service.  Then they would detach the descent stage and fire the ascent motor to rendezvous Snoopy with Charlie Brown.  Reason why 50,000ft was selected is because the engine on the Service Module was powerful enough to to rescue them as low as 50,000ft.  Apollo 10 was a success in every way and the go ahead was given to make Apollo 11 the landing mission.

On July 20th, 1969 millions of people were treated to a grainy black&white image in prime-time coming from the surface of the Moon.  And they saw a gray suited figure set against a perfectly black sky and white lunar surface put his foot down.  And make history as the first human being to set foot on another planet.
Neil Armstrong[shadow in foreground] snaps a picture of Eagle on the surface of the Moon.
Thank yo sir for being such a good person and a trailblazer.  God speed and fair winds.

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