Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, is dead. His family have said it was through complications from heart surgery earlier this month.
Neil was a hero, a word that is used far too often these days. He was a naval aviator flying 78 missions in Korea. He received the Air Medal for 20 combat missions, a Gold Star for the next 20, and the Korean Service Medal and Engagement Star. He flew experimental aircraft including the X-15 where he went to 207,500 ft and Mach 5.
He faced death regularly, on his Gemini flight the manoeuvring thrusters malfunctioned, sending the capsule into a roll. Using the re-entry system he managed to stabilise the craft but at the cost of the mission. Armstrong and Scott spent 3 hours bobbing in the swell of the Pacific waiting for their recovery. While preparing for the lunar landing he was flying a test vehicle (known as the flying bedstead) when it flipped over and hit the ground, bursting into flames. Armstrong ejected, only for the parachute to almost drop him amongst the flames.
It’ll be Apollo 11 for which Armstrong will be forever known. He was the first man to step foot on the moon. Cool under pressure even when Alarms and fuel warning were sounding he landed it gently and never panicked. He didn’t show off, he didn’t use it for personal or financial gain, he returned to teaching, then spent his days living quietly earning a reputation as a “shy” man.
He was my ultimate personal hero. I grew up with the stories of Apollo and marvelled at the images of 2 men in white dancing on a grey rock of “magnificent desolation.” Neil, Buzz, Pete, Alan, Gus, Ed, Roger, Jim, Mike all of them got me hooked on space. I owe them a hell of a lot, so in the words of the Armstrong family:
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.”
Remember Neil, and that moment he slipped the surly bonds of Earth, and with outstretched fingers, touched the face of God.