The Eagle Has Landed
The Eagle Has Landed
“Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” With those two sentences, Neil Armstrong, the commander of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon signaled that Americans had arrived at their goal. Several hours later, Armstrong followed by Buzz Aldrin steeped on the surface of Earth’s moon with the famous words, “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”
John F. Kennedy had promised that Americans would stand on the moon in the decade of the ’60s and men like Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin kept their martyred President’s promise. Kennedy’s inspirational speech should be listened to by all Americans.
On Saturday, Neil Armstrong, an American Eagle, died peacefully at age 82 in his native state of Ohio. The quiet, self-effacing engineer had been the first man to walk on the moon on July 20, 1969 while an estimated 600 million people watched history being made.
The history of man has many key points but none was more public than the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon. Events such as the discovery of fire, the creation of the wheel, the Wright Brothers first powered flight and Chuck Yeager’s breaking of the sound barrier have defined the upward trajectory of the human race. Each has served to divide history as before and after. In each case everything was changed after these events.
The Moon landing is perhaps the greatest dividing line. Everything before was tied to the gravity well of Earth. With the Moon landing of Apollo 11 and the following five landings, everything in our history changed. When we look to the heavens now we can imagine other planets, other worlds and maybe even other races just waiting to be discovered.
Neil Armstrong always down-played his role. He knew that he was a member of a huge team. He was the ultimate reluctant hero who only wished to return to a normal life after his incredible voyage across the void of space. Yet, Armstrong was more than just a “one-shot” wonder.
He earned his pilot’s license at 16, before his driver’s license. Two weeks after his 20th birthday, Armstrong became a naval aviator, qualified for carrier landings. Armstrong flew 78 combat missions during the Korean War. He received the Air Medal for 20 combat missions, a Gold Star for the next 20, and the Korean Service Medal and Engagement Star.
After receiving a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering, Armstrong decided to become an experimental research test pilot. Over the course of his career as a test pilot Armstrong flew the Bell X-1B and progressed to the famous X-15. These rocket planes were designed to fly off the ground into space but the Air Force’s insistance on big rockets to deliver nuclear weapons short circuited the program.
Armstrong made seven flights in the X-15. He reached a top altitude of 207,500 feet (63.2 km) in the X-15-3, and a top speed of Mach 5.74 (4,000 mph or 6,615 km/h) in the X-15-1. He left the test flight program having flown over 2,400 hours in over 200 types of aircraft.
In 1962, Armstrong was selected in the second class of astronauts, dubbed “the New Nine.” In March of 1966, Armstrong was the command pilot of Gemini 8, the first docking of two crafts in space. However, a malfunction that caused an uncontrolled rolling forced the mission to a premature conclusion.
Armstrong was named command pilot of Apollo 11 and the rest is history. He became the first of only 12 men to walk on the moon, every one was an American. After his retirement from NASA, Armstrong turned to teaching.
He was bitterly opposed to Barack Obama’s cancellation of the Ares 1 launch vehicle and the Constellation moon landing program. In an open public letter also signed by Apollo veterans Jim Lovell and Gene Cernan, he noted, “For The United States, the leading space faring nation for nearly half a century, to be without carriage to low Earth orbit and with no human exploration capability to go beyond Earth orbit for an indeterminate time into the future, destines our nation to become one of second or even third rate stature”
So the next time you look up and see the moon, remember Neil Armstrong and his American Eagle.