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Astronomy; Neil Armstrong - A Tribute to the First Man on the Moon

Updated on April 9, 2014
Greensleeves Hubs profile image

The author's aim is to popularise the science of astronomy in a series of relaxed, easy to read, and easy to undestand articles



Neil Armstrong recently died. It is only right to post a short tribute - a tribute which will be expanded in due course - to a man who played a central role in one of the greatest moments of human history, and a man who very possibly will one day become the most famous in all of human history.

That may be seen as a contentious statement, but it is one which I will defend on this page. Whatever the truth of that, certainly President Obama's first comment will ring true with most:

'Neil was among the greatest of American heroes - not just of his time, but of all time'.


Neil Armstrong was born on 5th August 1930 in Wapakoneta in the state of Ohio. It was as a six year old that he first flew in an aeroplane, and it was to instill in him a love of flight which ultimately led to voyages beyond all that were imaginable at that time. After attending school at Wapakoneta, and college at Purdue University, Neil signed up to the U.S. Navy to further his flying interests, becoming a Navy pilot during the Korean War, during which he was shot down once in the course of completing 78 combat missions. After the war, he continued his college education for a bachelor's degree in Aeronautical Engineering, and later a master's degree in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Southern California. In 1955, he joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) to research flight and aeroplane design. The burgeoning interest in space flight led to the formation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958, and NACA - with Neil Armstrong - was amalgamated into this new agency. Armstrong's roles within NASA in those early days were to assist in the design and the test flying of prototype planes including the record breaking X-15 rocket plane.

Soon however, Armstrong was looking beyond the blue sky to the blackness of space. He was accepted into astronaut training in 1962. In 1966, he was appointed commander of Gemini 8 when with fellow astronaut David Scott, he became the first to successfully dock two vehicles in space, when Gemini united with an unmanned Agena spacecraft. His second mission would be Apollo 11.

Neil Armstrong on the Moon. One of the curious oversights of the Moon mission was that few photos of Armstrong exist - most are of Aldrin, because Armstrong was taking the photos
Neil Armstrong on the Moon. One of the curious oversights of the Moon mission was that few photos of Armstrong exist - most are of Aldrin, because Armstrong was taking the photos | Source


When the time came to select the men for the most significant mission in American space history, the crew that NASA chose were Edwin 'Buzz' Aldrin and Michael Collins, and for the extraordinarily responsible position of Flight Commander, they picked Neil Armstrong. On 20th July 1969, the Eagle Lunar Module with Aldrin and Armstrong on board, touched down in the 'Sea of Tranquility' on the Moon - the first ever landing by the human species on another world. Almost a full Earth day was spent on the Moon's surface, and two and a half hours of this time was spent outside of the lander, walking and collecting rock samples, and commemorating the historic event.

The hazardous nature of the Apollo 11 mission was largely glossed over at the time in favour of the celebratory atmosphere which accompanied the landings, but there were huge risks both on landing and on the take off. On the approach to the Moon's surface, Armstrong saw that the landing site in the Sea of tranquility was more boulder strewn than previously appreciated. he had to take over control from the on board computer, and with altitude and velocity data supplied by Aldrin, he took the craft down with less than 20 seconds of fuel remaining. President Richard Nixon later congratulated the astronauts in a prepared speech. Less well known is that he also had a speech of eulogy prepared just in case Armstrong and Aldrin could not take off and were left stranded on the Moon, destined to die.


Armstrong retired from NASA soon after Apollo 11. He later became Professor of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Cincinnati. From 1982 until 2001, he worked in various roles in industry, including time as chairman of a company making flight scheduling computer software. In later years he became somewhat shy of the media circus. He was not exactly reclusive but he did shun interviews and publicity stunts, perhaps overburdened by the enormous significance of what he had done so many years before and the impossibility of living up to the role model status as a 'living legend'.

Neil Armstrong died aged 82, on 25th August 2012 from complications following cardiovascular surgery.


Quotes by Neil Armstrong:

The first message after the Eagle lander touched down:

  • 'Houston. Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed'

The first words spoken after setting foot on another Heavenly body:

  • 'That's one small step for man - One giant leap for mankind'

Quotes in the aftermath of Neil Armstrong's death:

  • 'When Neil stepped foot on the surface of the Moon for the first time, he delivered a moment of human achievement that will never be forgotten.' (Barack Obama)
  • As long as there are history books, Neil Armstrong will be included in them, remembered for taking humankind's first small step on a world beyond our own (Nasa chief Charles Bolden)
  • 'Honour 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)

On my hub page 'Astronomy; A Beginner's Guide to the Moon' I include a map of the Moon which shows clearly where Neil Armstrong walked. I say in the text under this map:

  • On this precise spot, mankind walked on another world for the first time in our history, when Neil Armstrong climbed down the steps of the lander on 21st July. As such, I suspect that this spot on the Moon will in future millenia - even more so than today - develop an almost sacred reverence for human beings. No matter where we might one day go, this will become perhaps the most famous spot on any heavenly body.'

If you follow the request of Armstrong's family, then this is the spot on the Moon to look when you remember Neil Armstrong.

Footprint on the Moon - the first imprint of mankind on another world
Footprint on the Moon - the first imprint of mankind on another world | Source


To describe Neil Armstrong as 'the most famous man in human history' is a bold statement, and today of course it is untrue. Barack Obama, Usain Bolt - even Justin Bieber - may well be better known as of today. But I am looking to the future.

How long will celebrities and icons remain famous for. We cannot say for certain with pop stars, film stars or sports stars, but certainly many of the biggest names in these fields from the 60s and 70s are already forgotten to the majority, and almost unknown to the younger generation. A very few select individuals may remain significant for centuries - perhaps truly skilled musicians such as Lennon and McCartney and Andrew Lloyd Webber will be known just as we still know the names of Mozart, Beethoven and Bach today. Perhaps a few other creative and intellectual geniuses will be remembered by all as we remember Da Vinci and Shakespeare and Newton and Galileo, and a handful of the ancients like Socrates and Aristotle. What about the most powerful people in the world today? Most presidents and prime ministers are almost forgotten by all except students of politics. A select few are still known centuries after their term of office. How many of the names of human beings will still be known to the general public after thousands of years of civilisation?

Neil Armstrong
Neil Armstrong | Source


Now let us consider Neil Armstrong.

What period of history are we talking about? I am not talking about the history of the present; I am talking about the history of the future. A long future. Plenty of animal species have survived on Earth virtually unchanged for millions of years. It's actually quite difficult for species to be wiped out by entirely natural events, and given that our species - the human species - now has increasing levels of control over our ability to cope with set backs such as lethal disease epidemics and natural climate change, there is no natural reason (beyond our control) why we should become extinct. If we learn to act responsibly with regard to human population growth and management of the Earth's resources, there really is no reason why we - like many other species - should not continue to exist on Earth for thousands, even millions of years to come.

And if this is the case, then it is my contention that we will do everything that it is physically possible for humans to do. We will establish colonies elsewhere in the Solar System. We will develop technologies which enable us to travel to the stars. Even if we exclude exotic sci-fi theories and accept limitations on the velocity of space travel to sub-light speeds, we will go. It is an inevitable characteristic of human nature. But wherever we go, and wherever we establish the human species in the future, we will remember the first to travel into space and the first to walk on another world for as long as our species maintains historical records. Yuri Gagarin was the first to travel into space, but Neil Armstrong was the first to set foot on another world, and that is a record which will never be broken.

It is a privilege for all alive at the time of the Moon landing to have lived through that period, and it is my contention is that even many many thousands of years into the future, the name of the first man to go there will be known to the world, when all others alive today have been forgotten.


This page has been written in one day as a tribute. In due course it will be updated and expanded with further research.


Here in Britain, the death of Neil Armstrong was the lead item on the television news. However, it wasn't too far into the bulletins before other subjects were covered, and certainly there have in the past been plenty of inconsequential celebrities whose deaths have received more coverage. In newspapers it was not even the main headline in all papers. Within 24 hours, the television news had moved on to other matters, and Armstrong was relegated to a spot some way behind domestic news and sport. Such are the values of our society.


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    • quicksand profile image


      5 years ago

      Well, Lobo is an American singer-songwriter who paid a tribute via his music to Neil Armstrong. It's on YouTube, sure you'll like it! Cheers!

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile imageAUTHOR

      Greensleeves Hubs 

      5 years ago from Essex, UK

      quicksand; Thanks. I can't say I know Lobo, but I like the quote! Cheers, Alun

      Efrain; Thanks very much. Agreed.

    • quicksand profile image


      5 years ago

      You said it all in the first chapter itself!

      Remember Lobo's words "I wonder if, a long time ago, somewhere in the universe, they watched a man named Adam walk upon the earth!"

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      he was a great man who took life as fun and excited

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile imageAUTHOR

      Greensleeves Hubs 

      5 years ago from Essex, UK

      Paladin; Thanks very much for emphasising the courage of the astronauts, particularly in those early days, and the risks taken by Neil Armstrong.

      And thanks for clarifying the point about that 'altercation' that Buzz Aldrin had with Bart Sibrel. I hadn't seen footage of that before, but one can hardly blame him for getting riled. It was certainly a sweet punch! :) There's truly some idiots in the world aren't there, with whom there's no sensible way of arguing a point? I don't think that guy would have accepted the truth of the Moon landings even if he'd been sat up there in space with Michael Collins, watching the lunar module descend with his own eyes!

      I wrote this tribute article quite quickly just after Neil Armstrong died, and I always intended to add to it at a later date, or else to write a second, more comprehensive biography. That is something I must do as soon as I have time. Cheers for your visit Paladin, and the information you provide. Alun

    • Paladin_ profile image


      5 years ago from Michigan, USA

      A nice tribute to a hero and monumentally courageous man!

      I think it's incredibly difficult for most people to imagine just how much courage it took to be an astronaut -- especially back then. They were essentially "flying" by the seat of their pants with technology that is now surpassed by the average laptop computer. There were a MILLION things that could go wrong at any moment and result in disaster (as we learned with Apollo 1).

      In fact, we almost lost Neil Armstrong TWICE before he ever made his historic flight -- due to some of those "million" things that could go wrong. The first was during Gemini 8, when thrusters began malfunctioning, and the craft began to roll more and more violently. Armstrong finally managed to override the controls and regain the craft's stability, just before reaching blackout level.

      The second was when he was preparing to fly the lunar lander. Armstrong was flying a "simulator" in the desert -- an actual hovering craft that used thrusters to maintain height and stability. As he was flying this device, its thrusters also began malfunctioning, eventually forcing Armstrong to eject seconds before the craft crashed and burned.

      As for the Buzz Aldrin incident, it should be noted that the punk he punched was NOT a reporter. Rather, Bart Sibrel was a stalker who regularly pursued the Apollo astronauts, demanding that they swear on a Bible that they did, indeed, land on the moon. By the time of his encounter with Buzz, he was well known to most of the astronauts as a menace.

      I'm not a naturally violent person, but watching this jerk accuse one of the most courageous men of all time of being a "coward," I was particularly satisfied to see Aldrin's response, and I literally cheered the first time I saw his right cross connect with that punk's face.

      It's one of my favorite videos:

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile imageAUTHOR

      Greensleeves Hubs 

      6 years ago from Essex, UK

      Thank you Patty. I wrote this tribute in the week Neil Armstrong died, so it was written quite quickly, and I think in the near future I may revise it or expand it to give a more complete biography of the man, or else I may write a second hub about him.

      Whilst I could not condone physical violence, I can certainly sympathise with Buzz Aldrin's reaction to that reporter! :-) When astronauts risk their lives in an extraordinarily dangerous mission of this kind, it must be hard listening to these people who constantly accuse them of lying and faking it.

      Your visit and comment is much appreicated. Cheers, Alun

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish MS 

      6 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Very good Hub! Rated Up and more.

      The Apollo 11 men were certainly different. Armstrong was from my home state and he decidedly did not enjoy being famous, according to his words when we saw him. But, I think he just ignored the fame.

      Michael Collins, who flew around the moon while the others explored, wrote that he did not want to go back into space and he did not. He worked for NASA elsewhere, wrote books, and grew a garden.

      Buzz Aldrin, from whom a reporter demanded to hear him say that the Moon Landing was a fake, punched the guy.

      I love Apollo 11.

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile imageAUTHOR

      Greensleeves Hubs 

      8 years ago from Essex, UK

      My thanks pramodgokhale for your visit and comment. Appreciated.

    • pramodgokhale profile image


      8 years ago from Pune( India)

      Manned Moon Mission ,USA in 1970 was booming ,Neil did great job,with courage and splendid job of millennium . This mission opened floodgate of new technologies , new sciences .

      Destiny set job for Neil and he did it.

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile imageAUTHOR

      Greensleeves Hubs 

      8 years ago from Essex, UK

      Thank you TheKatsMeow; much appreciated.

    • TheKatsMeow profile image

      Katee Shew 

      8 years ago from Canada

      Great tribute to a great man!

    • teresapelka profile image

      Teresa Pelka 

      8 years ago from Dublin, Ireland


      I didn't mean to speculate on Neil Armstrong's approach to the public or the people closer to himself. I just meant to point that decision making on pioneering and entrepreneural endeavors is necessarily more autonomous.

      I think that just like the pioneers to have reached the poles, an astronaut is more goal-oriented, not focused on the public, which either will applaud, or not - this is not necessarily the focus. :)

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile imageAUTHOR

      Greensleeves Hubs 

      8 years ago from Essex, UK

      Thank you Mama Kim! Much appreciated. As soon as I heard the news, I felt I should write something to mark the passing of a man who was involved in such a significant event of human history. I may add more about his life in due course, or else write another hub about the Moon landing. But I'm glad I wrote this one, and glad you liked it. Alun.

    • Mama Kim 8 profile image

      Sasha Kim 

      8 years ago

      I enjoyed this tribute very much. I knew who Neil Amrstrong was and what he did, but only the basics. Thanks for filling in the blanks. voted up

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile imageAUTHOR

      Greensleeves Hubs 

      8 years ago from Essex, UK

      Quite right teresapelka; Armstrong certainly wasn't interested in the kind of celebrity fame which many in the media would have liked to see him pursue - the media catwalk - he prefered to keep his life private. He doesn't seem to have been the kind of man to worry unduly about how others saw him. He just did his thing and did it well, and the rest is for history to judge. Thanks, Alun.

    • teresapelka profile image

      Teresa Pelka 

      8 years ago from Dublin, Ireland


      As straightforward as not to give up on my delicate manner - someone to have taken up a space mission sure wouldn't have been ever one to walk a catwalk to win a beauty contest :)

    • teresapelka profile image

      Teresa Pelka 

      8 years ago from Dublin, Ireland


      You misinterpreted my comment. I am just a woman of a delicate manner.

      It is you to bring the matter of greatness in. My comment actually does say that contemporaries' opinions might be not most important - you have to be very decided and fearless to go on a space mission at all, however you imagine space flight.

      It's not about humility. :)

    • mmsu profile image


      8 years ago from Pakistan

      A legend no one will ever forget.Nice tribute.

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile imageAUTHOR

      Greensleeves Hubs 

      8 years ago from Essex, UK


      Wow, you've done quite a marathon today catching up with my hubs! Thank you so much for commenting on all of them. It's very much appreciated as I hope you realise.

      The comment by Mitt Romney was one of several carefully chosen eulogies after Neil Armstrong's death. I particularly like the phrase 'The moon will miss its first son of earth'. Armstrong's name will forever be bonded to that globe in the sky.


    • Greensleeves Hubs profile imageAUTHOR

      Greensleeves Hubs 

      8 years ago from Essex, UK


      Thankyou for your generous words. Your description of Neil Armstrong seems to be very accurate. Alun.

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile imageAUTHOR

      Greensleeves Hubs 

      8 years ago from Essex, UK


      Many thanks for your visit and comment. You raise two issues really, regarding the 'greatest' and the 'most famous' in history.

      In the case of Neil Armstrong, I was addressing the question of fame, and I do very much believe that Armstrong's unique moment in history will forever be seen as a landmark in man's exploration of space. Even if one day in the far future we are living in 'Star Trek' style colonies on far distant worlds, I am sure the name of Neil Armstrong will still be known as the first to venture to another world.

      I would not suggest however, that fame is the same thing as greatness. Greatness is a quality which people will have different views about - great leadership, great genius, great courage, great philanthropy? Neil Armstrong was just one of several daring astronauts and cosmonauts in those early years of the space programme, and none was 'greater' than another - it was just Armstrong's good fortune to be made of the right stuff in the right place at the right time.

      However, to consider your musings on Neil Armstrong's own view of himself - I get the impression he was a fairly unassuming and modest individual. I suspect that he would not regard himself as great. As for fame, being famous was a burden he had to bear, and it seems he would rather not have had that burden.

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile imageAUTHOR

      Greensleeves Hubs 

      8 years ago from Essex, UK

      Steve Lensman;

      Thank you so much Steve for the visit, and of course for acknowledging Buzz Aldrin, obviously every bit as courageous as his commander. It must have taken a lot of guts to do what they did, especially as there were serious concerns - unexpressed at the time - about NASA's ability to get them back to Earth.

      As you say, 'first' is what counts - records are made to be broken, but nobody can break the record for being the first. Alun.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Alun, Neil Armstrong's contributions and impact are epitomized in this statement "Neil Armstrong today takes his place in the hall of heroes. With courage unmeasured and unbounded love for his country, he walked where man had never walked before. The moon will miss its first son of earth. I met and spoke with Neil Armstrong just a few weeks ago--his passion for space, science and discovery, and his devotion to America will inspire me through my lifetime" by businessman, family man, governor and presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

      Respectfully, and with many thanks for sharing, Derdriu

    • lone77star profile image

      Rod Martin Jr 

      8 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      Beautiful tribute. Beautiful memories. A humble and brave man.

    • teresapelka profile image

      Teresa Pelka 

      8 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      I'm not convinced Neil Armstrong himself would take up the question of being the most famous man in history or not.

      One obviously is very decided and fearless to go on a space mission. If you fail, no contemporary would care to have you for a hero. If you succeed - you know you wouldn't be your contemporaries' favorite without your having done your thing, the thing being setting foot on another celestial body for the astronaut.

      Would Neil Armstrong care to have a debate on his being the greatest?

    • Steve Lensman profile image

      Steve Lensman 

      8 years ago from Manchester, England

      Good work Alun, an impressive tribute to Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon.

      Dear old Buzz Aldrin, second man on the moon, isn't as celebrated and it could easily have been him stepping onto the moons surface first. :)

      But the first is what counts, many have climbed Everest but Edmund Hillary along with Tenzing got there first.

      Voted Up and Awesome.

    • Tom Whitworth profile image

      Tom Whitworth 

      8 years ago from Moundsville, WV

      Hear, hear. Good hub.

      Thanks for the memories Neil.


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