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Neil A. Armstrong, 1930-2012, RIP

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He was one of my boyhood heroes. His very name rings with adventure, challenge, and achievement. Who can forget that Apollo 11 mission? With his passing goes the magic and glory of youth. I remember as an eight year old boy at my grandmotherís house with what must have been close to twenty family members sitting in front of a black and white TV. Here's a nice news clip.

Of all the Obit articles I read, I thought this was the best.

Neil Armstrong was a quiet, self-described "nerdy" engineer who became a global hero when as a steely-nerved U.S. pilot he made "one giant leap for mankind" with the first step on the moon.

The modest man who entranced and awed people on Earth has died. He was 82.

Armstrong died Saturday following complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures, a statement from his family said. It didn't say where he died.

Armstrong commanded the Apollo 11 spacecraft that landed on the moon July 20, 1969, capping the most daring of the 20th century's scientific expeditions. His first words after setting foot on the surface are etched in history books and in the memories of those who heard them in a live broadcast.

"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," Armstrong said.

Thatís one of the great quotes of all time. And who can forget that other great line, ďThe Eagle has landed.Ē The article goes on to have Armstrong described what he saw from the moon.

"The sights were simply magnificent, beyond any visual experience that I had ever been exposed to," Armstrong once said.

The moonwalk marked America's victory in the Cold War space race that began Oct. 4, 1957, with the launch of the Soviet Union's Sputnik 1, a satellite that sent shock waves around the world.

An estimated 600 million people -- a fifth of the world's population -- watched and listened to the moon landing, the largest audience for any single event in history.

Parents huddled with their children in front of the family television, mesmerized. Farmers abandoned their nightly milking duties, and motorists pulled off the highway and checked into motels just to watch on TV.

Although he had been a Navy fighter pilot, a test pilot for NASA's forerunner and an astronaut, Armstrong never allowed himself to be caught up in the celebrity and glamour of the space program.

"I am, and ever will be, a white socks, pocket protector, nerdy engineer," he said in February 2000 in one of his rare public appearances. "And I take a substantial amount of pride in the accomplishments of my profession."
I think it was sometime before high school when I learned that Neil Armstrong was an engineer; then it was planted in my head that I had to be one as well. I too was going to be an astronaut, and I had to follow those footsteps. Of course as I grew older it dawned on me that I get horribly motion sickness and there was no way I could pass the motion flight simulator tests without puking. Heck I puked on joy rides at a carnivalÖlol. And to be honest, I donít think I would have had the courage to be a pilot, let alone a jet fighter pilot, and then an astronaut. Which leads one to really admire men and women like Armstrong, sitting on tons of explosive rocket fuel as one is sling shot into the heavens, realizing that every mechanical, electrical, and chemical function that was designed and tested could fail from an erroneous calculation, a poorly set up development test, or a slip shot manufacture and assembly. They have courage in spades.

While I didnít follow Armstrong into flight, I did follow him as that nerdy engineer, and though I donít usually wear white socks with slacks and shoes (it has happened on a few occasions) and I donít use a pocket protector, I do typically keep two pens, one black, one blue, and a mechanical pencil in my front shirt pocket while at work. Engineering is the next best thing to being an astronaut. If it were up to me every engineer should wear a white shirt and tie just like those NASA engineers did in the 1960s. I do have a very good and interesting job, but it aint NASA. I still dream of one day being the project manager or lead engineer of one of these NASA enterprises; heck Iíd settle for lab technician, or even designer of a screw for a space ship.

Why is it that space travel carries so much fascination and charm? Is it because the stakes are so enormously high, one errant move and you face instant death? Is it because of the elegance in the execution of a complex set of actions that more than mesmerize, a sort of Houdini trick on steroids? Is it because it is the last adventure, the crossing over into a terra incognita where no one on earth has ever touched, smelled, or used any of their senses to experience? Itís all those and more. Itís the propelling forth of manís abilities to break through natural limitations. Captain Ahab wanted to break through the mask that was the white whale. Armstrong and crew and project team and supporting nation broke through the clenching folds of earthís protective womb and landed on what all men from first time they noticed the heavens saw as a small, pale disc that traversed the night sky. It was beyond human in scope.

Now Neal A. Armstrong has crossed over into another place. May he be in heavenís grace.



  1. qimissung's Avatar
    Your last paragraph is really eloquent, Virgil.

    I remember seeing Neil's "small step" on television. Maybe that's one thing tv is good for anyway, allowing us to vicariously experience great moments as they occur.
  2. Gilliatt Gurgle's Avatar
    I too recall the B&W images of that great moment and some of the prior missions leading up to it. My father's career as an engineer was in rocketry and as a consequence the family was immersed in the subject.
    Nice blog recognizing the man and his achievements.
  3. Buh4Bee's Avatar
    I didn't realize that Armstrong was so modest. It's unusual that someone of his stature is brilliant, but also humble. He has left a great mark on American history, but also world history. I am sure he will be greatly mourned among fellow scientists/engineers. Thanks for such a good read.
  4. Virgil's Avatar
    "Your last paragraph is really eloquent, Virgil."
    Thanks Qimi, do you mean my closing couplet or the paragraph above that?

    Your father was in the rocket industry? Cool. Did he work in Huntsville, Alabama? So much rocket industry is located there. More important question: did he wear a plain white shirt and tie like those 1960s NASA engineers? If I were dictator of the place I work, I would demand every engineer dress like them. Here's a photo of those guys:

    Yeah, I really like that humility part of his personality. I didn't know that until a few years ago.
    Updated 08-26-2012 at 10:34 PM by Virgil
  5. Gilliatt Gurgle's Avatar
    Not in Alabama. He worked in Texas with a company that changed names a couple of times during his tenure- LTV, Vought Corporation. He spent roughly 25 years on the Scout research missle program and then transitioned into the SDI ("Star Wars") program.
    haha- as a matter of fact he did wear the classic attire including the pocket protector that weighed nearly a pound oh and don't forget the slide rule.
  6. Virgil's Avatar
    Thanks. I have heard of LTV. LOL, on the classic attire. I never used a slide ruler. Calculators had come out by the time I was in college. But engineers of my generation used the reverse polish keystroke approach. I bet no one understands that. Here:

    Instead of typing in the "3" "+" "4" "=" in asking the calculator to solve 3+4, in reverse Polish you type "3" "4" "+". Once you get used to that Reverse Polish I find it much more intuitive. But I get a kick out of the young engineers when I hand over my hewlett-packard. They get all fumbled up. I still keep one in my briefcase. If you click on the hp10c link in that wikipedia site, it'll take you to the one I have. I use the 11C. I must have that same calculator over 25 years. Still works great.
  7. mtpspur's Avatar
    I was in Caledonia NY where my parents moved to an 80 ft trailer (state of the art for its time) waiting for my report date to enter the Air Force and I remember watching the TV with my father who was a man of very few words of the landing. A glorious time in our country when the future seemed bright. Virgil you write very well and from the heart.
  8. LadyLuck's Avatar
    This was a lovely entry Armstrong was one of those men who was a childhood hero for me. While his passing is a great loss, I only hope that he will continue to be remembered for the things feats that so entranced me for so many years.
  9. Virgil's Avatar
    Thanks Rich and Lady.

    Ladyluck - Wasn't Armstrong from your part of the country?
  10. LadyLuck's Avatar
    He was born a few hours north of me, but he died here in Cincinnati. There's a museum up north that I would love to check out that is an air and space museum in his home town.