Fifty-three years ago today, on 20 July 1969, the commander of the Apollo 11 mission,
Neil Armstrong became the first human to walk on the moon. Appropriately, I was eleven at the time and the event consumed most of my time… yes I admit it, I had an Apollo addiction. I’m pretty sure I contributed significantly to the NZ and US postal service profits that year with all my NASA correspondence.
I was one of an estimated 650 million people back on earth, who tuned into their TV sets to watch the American astronaut’s eerie image as he placed his left foot on the lunar surface in Sea of Tranquility, uttering the now famous epigram, “That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.” Debate still continues regarding the existence of the ‘a’ or the lack of it. The syllable may have been dropped due to static or was inaudible due to the limitations of the communication technology at the time. The man himself hoped that history would grant him some leeway. The syllable was intended even if it was not said. NASA’s official transcript continues to show the ‘a’ in parentheses. It was a statement Neil came up with himself. He had too many other things to think about during the descent so it came to him after the landing.
After studying aeronautical engineering at Purdue University, under a Naval scholarship, Neil saw action in the Korean War, flying 78 missions, decorated with four medals and two gold stars. After his military service, he returned to University to complete his degrees, before becoming an experimental research test pilot, flying the hypersonic rocket-powered aircraft X-15 seven times. Oh and yes, didn’t see this one coming; he actually co-directed two musicals while at varsity as part of an all-student revue! He joined the NASA Astronaut Corps in 1962, becoming the commander pilot of Gemini 8 in 1966 with pilot Dave Scott.
The primary objective of the Apollo 11 mission was to complete a national goal set by President John F. Kennedy on 25 May 1961, to put a man on the moon before the decade was out. Launched from Cape Kennedy on 16 July 1969 on the mighty Saturn V – a 363-foot rocket with 7.5 million pounds of thrust – Neil was joined by the Command Module (Columbia) pilot Michael Collins and Lunar Module (Eagle) pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin.
Neil passed away on 25 August 2012 aged 82.
He kindly signed for me in the mid-1980’s after I wrote to him at his home, before he stopped some years later due to the huge volume of requests.
The Chicane ‘lasting impression’ toon marked the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission in 2019.