RIP Neil Armstrong

August 25, 2012 • 12:58 pm

Neil Armstrong, the first human to set foot on the Moon, died today at age 82.  A legendary test pilot before he became an astronaut, his big feat (feet?) took place on  July 21, 1969, followed by the famous statement analyzed in detail by Wikipedia:

Although the official NASA flight plan called for a crew rest period before extra-vehicular activity, Armstrong requested that the EVA be moved to earlier in the evening, Houston time. Once Armstrong and Aldrin were ready to go outside, Eagle was depressurized, the hatch was opened and Armstrong made his way down the ladder first.

At the bottom of the ladder, Armstrong said “I’m going to step off the LEM now” (referring to the Apollo Lunar Module). He then turned and set his left boot on the surface at 2:56 UTC July 21, 1969, then spoke the famous words “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Armstrong had decided on this statement following a train of thought that he had had after launch and during the hours after landing.The broadcast did not have the “a” before “man”, rendering the phrase a contradiction (as man in such use is synonymous with mankind). NASA and Armstrong insisted for years that static had obscured the “a”, with Armstrong stating he would never make such a mistake, but after repeated listenings to recordings, Armstrong admitted he must have dropped the “a”.  Armstrong later said he “would hope that history would grant me leeway for dropping the syllable and understand that it was certainly intended, even if it was not said – although it might actually have been”.

It has since been claimed that acoustic analysis of the recording reveals the presence of the missing “a”; Peter Shann Ford, an Australia-based computer programmer, conducted a digital audio analysis and claims that Armstrong did, in fact, say “a man”, but the “a” was inaudible due to the limitations of communications technology of the time.Ford and James R. Hansen, Armstrong’s authorized biographer, presented these findings to Armstrong and NASA representatives, who conducted their own analysis.  The article by Ford, however, is published on Ford’s own web site rather than in a peer-reviewedscientific journal, and linguists David Beaver and Mark Liberman wrote of their skepticism of Ford’s claims on the blog Language Log. Although Armstrong found Ford’s analysis “persuasive”, he has expressed his preference that written quotations include the “a” in parentheses.

NASA has a wonderful minute-by-minute transcript of the first Moon walk, linked to audio and video of the event.  Do check it out (h/t to Matthew Cobb for this).

I went to a friend’s house to see the first step on the Moon, but was late because it wasn’t supposed to occur until later.  And just as I walked through the screen door (it was in Virginia, and it was hot), I saw Armstrong walk down the ladder and step on the surface. I was lucky I made it in time! Where you were when you saw that is something you never forget, just like where you were when you heard that John F. Kennedy was shot. Were you alive during that time, and if so, did you watch the Moon walk live?

This photo, showing Armstrong’s face as he walked on the moon, surfaced only three years ago:

And a sad commentary from xkcd:

Oh,to leaven this sad day a bit with some humor, Byron Tau posted on Twitter a headline that NBC News got wrong:

This latter Neil was often accused of being a space cadet, but never left the Earth.

63 thoughts on “RIP Neil Armstrong

  1. I was staying at my grandfather’s house in that summer of 1969. I stayed up with my uncle Brian to watch the landing, which was about 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning UK time. One of the most memorable moments of my life.

    1. I was eight and, sadly, don’t remember it at all. I must have watched some of the TV coverage (James Burke, Patrick Moore, et al.), but my first clear memory of any live event was Apollo 13, in particular the moment when the crew jettisoned the lunar module, Aquarius, which had been their “lifeboat” en route back to Earth. Looking back, I don’t think I was really aware of how precariously their lives hung in the balance.


      1. Yup, with apparently 600 MILLION people watching, or 1/5 of the world’s population at the time (biggest TV audience ever for a single event), they were remarkably bold. Nixon pre-recorded a statement in case they didn’t get off the moon.

        1. I presume you mean “never got back from the moon’s orbit”, as they never got as far as getting on the moon. Just thought I’d clarify for the young uns that never saw the Ron Howard (Tom Hanks) movie. 😉

    2. I was staying at my grandfather’s house

      I have been reading comments all over the internet today, and you want to know the damndest thing? Time and again, people say they were visiting their grandparents when this happened.

    3. I was also in the UK and got up very early to watch the moon walk – and was highly disappointed to find that I’d missed most of it, because they’d started earlier than planned. At least I saw the last 20 minutes or so.

  2. Wow, this is indeed sad news. He was quite an outstanding man and his death is a great loss. Although being the first human to set his foot on an alien world is a great honor, I also had the impression that this was a great burden for him.

    Rest in Peace, Mr. Armstrong

  3. I saw the moon landing on TV. The sequence leading up to the landing itself was hair-raising. Armstrong was dodging potholes right up to the last second. Walking outside was the point of the whole mission, but the part that took the most nerve was the landing.

    It makes far more sense to send remote robots to the moon and planets, but the human landings were way cool just the same!

  4. I think our family was on the road from the res at Tuba City, headed to Anchorage AK at the time. I do remember an impromptu school assembly called for the Apollo 13 splashdown, and the cheers that went up.

  5. Our family went to Florida to take a tour of the facility, courtesy of our congressman, and then watch the blast off, after which we rushed home to see the landing. I was only 6, so I’m not sure I appreciated the significance.

  6. I was 1 month and two days old at the time, so I don’t remember it. My mum does remember, as she was feeding me at the time, and listening to the landing on the radio 🙂

  7. I met Commander Armstrong while he was a test pilot flying the X-15. My dad would take me to work and introduce me to people like Chuck Yeager, Armstrong, Joe Walker, and several others. When I met Armstrong I was 8 or 9, but I remember him as one of the nicest of the pilots, he spent a lot of time telling me stories about his flights. One that I remember was something to do with the X-15 bouncing off the upper atmosphere and somehow this caused Neil to approach the landing zone doing Mach 3. Not a good thing. He eventually got it slowed down somewhere over LA (quite a distance away) and returned to land safely.

    The other thing I remember about him was that he was always an aeronautical engineer first (according to my dad) and test pilot second. He actually designed some improvements for the X-15 he flew. After he was assigned to the Apollo mission I saw him once from a distance, but he still smiled and waved. He was a great guy.

    Chuck Yeager and I ended up in the same small town after he retired (Grass Valley, CA) and I approached him. Of course he didn’t remember me, but he did remember the stories and he loved to talk about them. He had some great ones about Neil.

    Sorry this was a long post. I just wanted to say what a nice man Commander Armstrong was and how down to Earth he was for an astronaut.

    1. Tell us more! Imagine living a life in which you sometimes bounced off the upper atmosphere and had to slow down from Mach 3 over LA, and later landing on the f-ing moon!!!

    2. Hmmm. This sounds familiar. At the time of the moon landing, I was a dependant living at Edwards AFB, and we did have a television by then! So of course I watched it all live. A year or two later, Buzz Aldrin moved in next door.

  8. At fifteen and a day, I watched it from my family’s home. I confess to having been more impressed by Apollo 8. To me, that was “going to the moon.” Seeing the back side of the moon amazed me. (Until I just looked it up, I hadn’t been aware that Soviet satellites had previously photographed it.) And, of course, the earthrise.

  9. Perhaps his renowned quote should have been.
    “One small step for Humans, one giant leap for Humankind” rather than the some what chauvinistic phrase he was told to say.

    1. Your alternative would have been silly ivorygirl. Did you mean “…for a human…”?

      I reckon “One small step for a man & one giant leap for all people” would have done the job best 🙂

      What do you think ivorygirl?

      1. Nah. Loses the symmetry that makes the statement memorable.

        How about “One small step for a person, one giant leap for all personhood.”

        Sometimes being PC destroys poetry.

    2. Aw, Ivorygirl, we (women) didn’t get liberated until several years later; 1969 was still just the age when men had almost all the fun.

      Betty Friedan & her revolution were just around the corner I’m just happy we got women up to the space station — and don’t forget the great Sally Ride, another pioneer we lost this year.

      It WAS a giant step for all humans, including those still living in near Stone Age conditions in the jungles of South America, Africa, South Asia and some of the South Pacific islands, as well as the frozen northern lands.

      One day we all may be space travelers, if we manage to avoid tumbling off the fiscal cliff we’re now so perilously close to and/or killing each other off in the process. Unfortunately, in addition to being a brilliant species, we can also be a rather nasty one.

  10. I wasn’t born until 13 years and some months after the landing, so I cannot personally attest to how awesome it might have been. Still, I can’t help but feel that the first lunar landing was the grandaddy of all spacecraft landings. To think that people were sent to the moon, in something that probably has less computing power than my cellphone (and no, it’s not a smartphone) is amazing (at least to me). The Curiosity landing was spectacular (JPL basically put an SUV on another planet!), but the Apollo 11 mission seems to have set the stage for future extraterrestrial missions.

  11. I was 9 – nearly 10. My mum and dad woke me up in the middle of the night so I could come and watch (if it was the middle of the night; anyway it was after my bedtime) – because they thought it was too historic for me to miss it. I remember it well. I felt quite weirdly sad tonight about Neil Armstrong – maybe because it’s something so major to my childhood, I don’t know.

  12. Yes, I saw it, on a small B&W set in Columbus, Ohio. I was a couple months shy of 13. I wasn’t visiting my grandparents. 🙂

    Good job, Neil, I won’t forget you.

    1. Yes, black and white TV. I thought that every important historical event happened in b&w. We didn’t get a color TV until I went off to college.

      Tell me your birthday is November 19, and we are the exact same age.

  13. The moon walk took place when I was a young man; now I’m an old man (or verging on being one). Talk about memories of youth and choking up!

    And to think that the nation that carried out this feat now elects anti-scientific, anti-intellectual, anti-knowledge no-nothings to its legislatures!

    [Sorry to drag politics into these comments, but the contrast between then and now is just too great.]

    1. You got that right. It’s a total disgrace. Let’s hope it’s just a momentary glitch in the path to the future. Maybe we can set up a colony on the dark side of the moon & send all GOPs there.

      Newt, after all, thinks we should be going there & I agree, it would be a good place for him.

  14. I watched the Moon landing with my parents and their friends in communist Poland; as far as I recall, it was a live broadcast. Certainly one of those events one remembers forever.

  15. Not just the first human on the moon, the first living thing, unless there were bacteria on Luna 1 or Pioneer 4.

  16. I watched Armstrong step on the moon with my family in San Rafael CA, 13 at the time. We had missed all the Apollo flights before because we had lived in East Pakistan for the previous two years. But I followed space news actively since and after getting an aerospace degree in 1980, I joined Lockheed and have been doing space operations ever since. Armstrong and Huston Mission Control have been heroes to my coworkers and I for all this time. The cool professionalism as they landed. Tempered with a light touch of humor for sure, but cool, level headed awesomeness. Us old timers sure cringe at the new NASA celebrations… but then they aren’t really in real-time operations, they were cheering something that had happened 14 minutes before and had no real way to affect the outcome of. Not like the Apollo crews and mission control. Or all of the NASA manned spaceflight crews.

    1. Why do you “cringe” at the new NASA celebrations?

      Not enough lives on the line for there to be a celebration? Would a manned Mars mission warrant a bottle of champagne, or will the unavoidable time delay render that occasion cringe-worthy as well?

      1. Huston mission control didn’t cavort like JPL does when manned events took place. I cringe because it isn’t traditional, it looks amateurish to me, my heroes from the 60s & 70s were cool and composed and that is the way we operate our operations. I am not saying the JPL folks are wrong, they are in a much different situation than Huston or my world. So it is my problem to adjust to.

  17. A quick look at the net…

    I notice that “passed away” is the phrase rather than “dead”. Why do we still do that?

    1. Dead is harsher and doesn’t convey sadness over the fact. To me “passed away” doesn’t imply heaven or anything mystical, just a loss of someone who was liked. When Rush Limbaugh dies, I’ll use the word “dead”.

  18. Mum kept us kids home from school to watch the whole thing. Spending most of the day in loungeroom in front of the television. Those wonderful images. School was exceedingly unimpressed, Mum was adamant – & that was in itself remarkable ’cause to her, school law was as firm as God’s law and we were at Catholic private schools. Mum’s hte reason I’m really into the in-off again space adventures – little drops of hope, they feel like.
    The moon landing remains a highlight of my life, even though it’s now soo long ago. I am so sad he has gone & as I type, the radio is playing his famous statement.

  19. This seven year old kid remembers that our family were camping when the news came and my biggest memory of it is that I wwnted to see it on tv and couldn’t because we didn’t bring the tv camping with us. I thought that was so stupid.

    PS: To be picky the “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” isn’t a contradiction. A contradiction is a statement that can never be true. This can be true, the second clause is just a little superfluous.

  20. I’m too young to have a memory of Apollo (I was born the day Apollo 16 returned to Earth). I’ve read a great deal about it in the last few years, an amazing era that demonstrated what science can achieve given a common purpose.

    My favourite Armstrong story comes via Alan Bean in the excellent “In the Shadow of the Moon” documentary. When Armstrong was forced to parachute out of the infamous LLTV shortly before it crashed and exploded, his reaction to this stressful event was…….back to his desk and keep working. Now you’d have 6 months’ leave, counselling, you name it. They’re the qualities that should be admired.

    A true legend.

  21. So, how long until a website somewhere claims that Armstrong was about to blow the whistle on the Moon Landing Hoax, so NASA assassinated him and make it look like natural causes?

    1. There already exists some Philistine with such a hoax-claiming website in the Nashville, TN area, who harrassed Aldrin sufficiently to prompt the latter to sock him in the visage, if one can believe everything he reads.

  22. I was 22 and remember the excitement in our house as they bounced along the Moon’s surface.
    So how long until mankind sends someone to Mars?

  23. I must say, I felt a pang in the chest on hearing this. However, he made it to age 82. Not all astronauts have. Re: Grissom, White, Chaffee in the 100% oxygen-electrical spark-shoddy workmanship event on the launch pad Jan ’67. Theodore Freeman was the first U.S. astronaut fatality, in 1964, in a NASA T-34 jet, I think, as were Elliot See and Charles Bassett, all of whom, if I correctly recall, were in Armstrong’s astronaut class.

    I was 14 and had my first job of sorts, caddying. I was in the clubhouse listening to the landing. I knew something serious was up when I heard “60 seconds” (of fuel remaining). That night, I was in a cabin with a tin roof up in a “holler,” as we are wont to say in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, watching a black and white television, with “LIVE FROM THE MOON” on the bottom. “Ghostly” images, they were. I was very focussed, wanting to sear as much of that into my memory as I could, including the feelings of awe, the wonder, the numinous, the gratitude for having the good fortune to be alive during and keenly aware of this event. Being a bit superstitious as I was at the time, and constantly on edge afraid that something would happen, something would malfunction, I had visions of some “boogerman” popping out of nowhere and setting upon them.

    1. Elliot See was in Armstrong’s Astronaut group (commonly called the “New Nine”), but Bassett, Freeman and C.C.Williams (another crash victim) were all in the 3rd group of 14 astronauts – also containing Armstrong’s fellow Apollo 11 crew members Edwin Aldrin and Mike Collins.

  24. Rip Neil Armstrong. It was a name that I learned very early in my life as my parents often told me about the event.
    I was -10 years old then and feel kind of cheated. I demand a manned Mars mission to make up for this!

  25. It’s hard to remember that every event wasn’t covered 24/7 like it is today. So it was fascinating to watch actual “breaking news” when it happened. In black and white. I thought it would be the first of many, many such landings, and expected we would go to Mars in another decade or so. Boy was I worng.

    As a kid in grade school, they wheeled in a TV for every Mercury and Gemini launch and recovery. It was some of the most inspirational, motivational and educational television I ever watched. OK. So I didn’t become a rocket surgeon. But I had the lunchbox.

    1. As a kid in grade school, they wheeled in a TV for every Mercury and Gemini launch and recovery.

      I remember that. Come to think of it, we had school interrupted a lot when I was growing up. I know I saw Romeo and Juliet and Patton in movie theaters on school time.

  26. I was 12yo, and we were camping at Rocky Mountains National Park near Denver. We’d been out someplace, maybe into town for a restaurant dinner, and stopped at a little country store to pick up a few groceries. I sat in the car while my parents went in. A few moments later Dad burst out, excitedly calling me to come inside. At the back of the store, a dozen customers were clustered around a Dutch door that gave onto the proprietors’ kitchen. The top half of the door was open, and there was a small TV set on the counter. Apparently I just missed the actual first step by a few moments — which didn’t really matter as the reception was so poor all I could see was a bunch of high-contrast shapes in snowy b&w.

    We went back to camp, listening to the live coverage on the radio. During my bed-time walk to the toilets, I looked up at the full moon, amazingly bright and clear in the cold high-altitude air, and marveled that it wasn’t just a disk in the sky — it was a world, and two guys were walking on it.

  27. Well, we’ve got a wonderful, if unmanned (or unwomaned), mechanical scientist roving Mars now. Lets hope it will be the nucleus of our next chapter off-planet. I know none of us living now will see it, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if Isaac Asimov’s or Gene Roddenberry’s visions of the future came true?

    If Columbus could find a new world, why couldn’t we?

  28. Meeting Neil Armstrong last summer was one of the most amazing and enlightening experiences of my life. He was such a generous, intelligent and seemingly hale man. And no one should miss the talk he gave at Starmus. If you have a chance to watch it know that Brian May had taken the astronauts to task for not believing in a god and had said things like evolution has reached its apex and the earth is nurturing blah blah blah. OK, now watch Mr. Armstrong diplomatically take him apart and still challenge the rest of us.
    Plus, he had a great sense of humor. A sad sad loss.

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