John Glenn, the first American astronaut to orbit the earth, once said, "When I think of Neil, I think of someone who for our country was dedicated enough to dare greatly."
Neil Armstrong was the man who made history by being the first man to set foot on the moon.
The memory is vivid in my mind even today. My father, trying to tune in to international news broadcasts like the BBC and VOA on our old radio set, suddenly caught the static-filled live commentary of the Apollo 11 space mission to the moon.
Both of us sat glued to it, listening with rapt attention. Since then, much has changed, and we have learned a lot more about space, the moon, the solar system, the existence of other planets revolving around other suns, however, nothing has ever matched the magic of the first man setting foot on the moon.
The man who achieved this phenomenal feat was Neil Armstrong, an American pilot and astronaut. Armstrong passed away on August 25, 2012, but his famous words uttered on the moon have remained etched in the imagination of people all around the world ever since:
That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.
Sidestepping the historic metaphorical implication of this first lunar radio transmission, there is some debate whether Armstrong actually uttered the 'a' in the 'small step for a man' half of the sentence, since the original radio broadcast didn't have optimum clarity.
While Armstrong maintained that the 'a' had been lost in radio transmission, some argued that the sentence was a case of redundancy, since 'man', when used without an 'a', means 'mankind' anyway. Of course, this is just a side issue!
Considering that Armstrong had already made history when he spoke the sentence, I think 'mankind' can forgive him for a simple grammatical error- if it indeed happened. Here are some interesting facts about 'a man' who made the giant leap for mankind.
★ Neil Armstrong was born on August 5, 1930, in Wapakoneta, Ohio.
★ He was of Scottish and German descent.
★ He had a Bachelor's Degree in aeronautical engineering from Purdue University and a Master's Degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Southern California. He also had a number of honorary doctorates, awarded to him by several universities.
★ Before he entered the space program, he had piloted jets, helicopters, and gliders for the U.S. Air Force and Navy.
★ It is said that his passion for flying began when he was just two years old when he was taken by his father to the National Air Races, which was held in Cleveland, Ohio. This interest deepened further when, at age six, he experienced his first ride on an airplane in a Ford Tri-Motor, in Warren, Ohio.
★ Neil Armstrong started taking lessons in flying at an airport located to the north of Wapakoneta in an Aeronca Champion airplane. In order to pay for the lessons, he worked at a number of jobs at the airport as well as the town.
★ He got his flight certificate at the age of 16, even before he could obtain a driver's license!
★ While he was studying for his aeronautical engineering, the Korean War broke out, in which he flew 78 combat missions. He was just 20 years old when he was made a naval aviator.
His plane was shot by anti-aircraft fire once, while in a low-height armed reconnaissance flight, but he managed to escape, leaving the wreckage behind. In recognition of his bravery and skill, he won Air Medals for 20 air missions.
★ He was a member of the fraternities Phi Delta Theta and Kappa Kappa Psi.
★ Later, he became a skillful test pilot, flying right to the atmosphere's edge, 207,500 feet, or 63,198 meters, at 4,000 miles per hour, in the famous experimental rocket powered aircraft, X-15.
★ Due to Armstrong's knowledge of engineering, he was always quick to grasp the minute nuances of flight and could understand the characteristic in-flight properties of specific aircraft quicker than most, enhancing his abilities as a pilot.
★ He went on his first space mission on March 16, 1966 as the command pilot of Gemini VIII. He docked the Gemini VIII successfully with an unmanned Agena target craft.
Although the docking was smooth enough, while the spacecrafts were together, they started to roll. Armstrong then managed to undock the Gemini, and regained control of the spacecraft by using the retro rockets. However, this resulted in the astronauts having to make an emergency landing into the Pacific Ocean.
★ The defining moment in the Space Race came when Armstrong set foot on Earth's closest celestial neighbor on July 21, 1969. The mission was so fraught with risk that Armstrong himself conceded that the chances of a safe touchdown were only 50-50.
★ Remembering the experience of the historical Apollo 11 flight lifting off, Neil Armstrong said, "It felt like a train on a bad railroad track, shaking in every direction. And it was loud, really loud."
Although Neil Armstrong was among the most well-known people in the world, he always was a private man, happy to stay out of the limelight. For many years after his epochal moment, he avoided the media.
However, he finally decided to venture out into the spotlight when he gave his permission for a biography named 'First Man - The Life of Neil Armstrong' to be written by James Hansen.
The legacy of Neil Armstrong extends far beyond one of the most famous quotes in human history and a few footprints on the surface of the moon.
He is the epitome of man's admiration and fascination for what lies beyond. His first step on the moon was the fruition of man's innate efforts to satiate his own curiosity, the desire to know, and the will to tackle the unknown, to exceed and to conquer.