Sunday, August 26, 2012

Godspeed Neil Armstrong

An incredibly sad day indeed – Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the Moon has died at the age of 82.

Although Armstrong did a stint in the US Navy air force, seeing action in Korea, he actually left the military to gain a degree in aeronautical engineering at college.  He had a love of flying though, and ended up embarking on a career as a civilian test pilot. He was a different mould to the Hollywood stereotype of the hot-headed test pilot, being quiet and methodical due to his engineering background. Some test pilots like Chuck Yeager felt such pilot-engineer testers got themselves into more trouble because they would try to think their way out of situations over follow their instincts, and in Chuck's mindset trying to over think could lead to the kind of hesitency that a test pilot could not afford.

He joined the NASA space program as one of the few civilian test pilots. His first space flight was Gemini 8 where his capsule performed a docking with an unmanned Agena module. This was a world first.

However soon after docking, something went wrong with the Agena, and the two linked vehicles started to go into a spin, as the program controlling the Agena thrusters seemed to react against the Gemini 8 command capsule. Noticing they were burning fuel trying to correct this, the Gemini pilots decided to disengage, however the Gemini 8 capulse then started to tumble even fasted when removed. It was only due to some steely decisions made by Armstrong that the pair did not black out, and the Gemini 8 capsule was stabilised.

Some members of NASA said that the Gemini 8 crew had compromised the mission by not following the malfunction procedures for such an instance. Despite there being no such procedure for this eventuality. Armstrong being a true tester just worked through the problem and found the best solution he could for a situation no-one has anticipated.

It was his calm manner and lack of ego which made him an ideal candidate to be the first man on the Moon. He was a perfect choice – when he returned to the Earth he didn't use his position to influence politics (despite being asked to) and was careful in the choice of any company he chose to endorse.

Of course he didn't get to the Moon on his own, he got there as a figurehead of a team, from the controllers at NASA to the guy on the assembly line. He always spoke with great humility acknowledging those whose input he always wanted us to remember.

He may have been the first man to set foot on the Moon, but he was also in many ways one of us, a tester – although one who would put his life on the line in his pursuit of testing. He used his pilot and his engineering skills in equal measure to probe for problems then investigate and overcome them. He later served on the inquiry into the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.

The world cheered in 1969 when he stepped off of his lunar lander. It now must stand for a moment in silence to mark his passing.

Godspeed Neil Armstrong …

Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man's desire to understand.

It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn't feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.

The important achievement of Apollo was demonstrating that humanity is not forever chained to this planet and our visions go rather further than that and our opportunities are unlimited.

Well, I think we tried very hard not to be overconfident, because when you get overconfident, that's when something snaps up and bites you.

Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon. July 1969 AD. We came in peace for all mankind.

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