Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. Armstrong piloted Apollo’s lunar module that landed on the moon July 20, 1969. He radioed back to Earth the historic news of “one giant leap for mankind.” Armstrong and fellow astronaut Edwin A. “Buzz” Aldrin spent nearly three hours walking on the moon, collecting samples, conducting experiments and taking photographs. In all, 12 Americans walked on the moon from 1969 to 1972.

(by Neil Steinberg, Staff Reporter for Chicago – He was the first man to set foot on the moon, and he lived the rest of his life in such a manner as to never detract from that enormous accomplishment.

Neil Armstrong stepped off the ladder of Apollo 11’s “Eagle” lunar landing module and onto the powdery gray lunar surface at 10:56 p.m. EST on July 20, 1969, to the amazement of a breathless world.

“That’s one small step for [a] man,” he said, famously, the “a” dropping out in the quarter-million mile transmission. “One giant leap for mankind.”  [Nearly 600 million people – a fifth of the world’s population at the time – watched the grainy black-and-white TV transmission that showed Armstrong walking on the moon.]

For the next 43 years, until his death Saturday at 82 after complications from surgery to repair a blocked artery, Armstrong conducted himself as a hero should — modest, self-effacing, neither capitalizing on his global fame nor seeking a return to the spotlight.

That was not only appreciated, it was apt, because Armstrong’s modest demeanor was what caused NASA administrators to pick him for the honor in the first place, selecting him to achieve the capstone of the United States’ epic quest, in the words of John F. Kennedy, “before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.”

In a statement, his family described Armstrong as “a reluctant American hero who always believed he was just doing his job.”

Neil Alden Armstrong was born on Aug. 5, 1930, in Wapakoneta, a small town in Western Ohio, 60 miles from the hometown of the Wright Brothers, who were his boyhood heroes. Armstrong received his pilot’s license on his 16th birthday, before he learned to drive, paying for flight lessons with his own money from after-school jobs, and became a naval air cadet the next year.

He studied aeronautical engineering at Purdue — he always described himself as a “nerdy engineer” — but left college to fight in the Korean War. The youngest fighter pilot in his squadron, he flew 78 combat missions, was shot down once and decorated three times.

After the war, he finished at Purdue and got his masters degree at the University of Southern California. He joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the precursor [something that comes before something else; predecessor] to NASA, becoming a research pilot at Edwards Air Force base, flying hundreds of different aircraft.

Armstrong retired from the Navy in 1960 and joined the space program in 1962, part of the second class of astronauts. He commanded the Gemini 8 mission in 1966, conducting the first docking of two spacecraft in history, connecting with the Agena spacecraft.

“Flight we are docked,” Armstrong radioed back. “It’s really a smoothie.” The rest of the flight wasn’t — 30 minutes after docking, a malfunctioning thruster caused the joined spacecraft to spin wildly, required the mission to be aborted and an emergency landing in the Pacific.

NASA officials, looking for a cool head for the first risky moon mission, remembered Armstrong’s performance under pressure with Gemini 8. He was made commander of Apollo 11, where he was joined by Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins, who stayed in the command module Columbia while Armstrong and Aldrin descended to the moon’s surface.

Armstrong needed his trademark calm during the Eagle’s landing, when a balky computer threatened to [land] the…vehicle into a field of boulders — he switched to manual control, reading out the distance to the [fast approaching] moon, flew past the boulder field and landed softly in a cloud of dust with less than a minute’s worth of fuel remaining in the landing tanks.

“Houston,” he said. “Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

NASA always said that Armstrong was selected to go out first because his seat was closest to the hatch — but years later, officials admitted that it was his self-effacing demeanor — Aldrin had lobbied for the honor — that caused him to be selected.

Armstrong spent less than three hours on the moon. He collected rock samples and took photographs — most of them, so he only appears in a few. Armstrong never flew into space again.

The rest of his life was mostly out of the public eye — Aldrin described him as one of the quietest men he had ever met.

“On behalf of the Aldrin family we extend our deepest condolences to Carol & the entire Armstrong family on Neil’s passing. He will be missed.,” Aldrin said via Twitter.

Armstrong taught aerospace engineering at the University of Cincinnati and served on corporate boards.

He did make several rare appearances — in 2010, decrying a NASA budget that shed its human space flight.

“It has been painful to watch,” he testified to Congress. “I believe the president has been poorly advised.”

He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Space Medal of Honor and the Congressional Gold Medal. More than a dozen public schools are named in his honor. …

Copyright © 2012, Sun-Times Media, LLC.  Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from The Chicago Sun Times. Visit the website at


1.  For what accomplishment is Neil Armstrong known?

2.  How does his family describe Neil Armstrong?

3.  How did SunTimes reporter Neil Steinberg describe Neil Armstrong?

4.  What qualities did Neil Armstrong possess that caused NASA to choose him to be the first out of the lunar module?

5.  Neil Armstrong did not attempt to profit from his fame.  When he learned that people were selling the autographs he gave them, he stopped giving autographs.  What adjective would you use to describe this reaction.

6.  Read the “Background” and “Resources” below the questions.  Ask a grandparent to tell you how he/she views Neil Armstrong and the moon landing.  Does this information change how you view this historic event and why this man is viewed as a hero and an icon?  Explain your answer.

7.  Bill Johnson, a Republican congressman from Neil Armstrong’s home state of Ohio, has asked President Obama to grant a state funeral for Mr. Armstrong. “I ask President Obama to hold a state funeral for Neil Armstrong so that every American may pay tribute to this groundbreaking hero,” he said. “His first step on the moon showed the world that Americans can do anything.”

State funerals, held in Washington DC, are usually only held for former presidents, the last being Gerald Ford in 2006.  The last non-president to be granted one was Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the WWII and Korean War soldier, in 1964.  Such an event typically involves pall-bearers from five branches of the US Armed Forces, a series of artillery salutes, a fly-by and a number of bands and choirs. The flag-draped coffin is taken in a horse-drawn gun-carriage and placed in the Capitol rotunda for a public viewing, and a service is held at the Washington National Cathedral.

a)  Do you think Neil Armstrong should be granted a state funeral?  Explain your answer.
b)  Ask a grandparent the same question.

NOTE: “Answers by Email” will resume September 4th. Sign-up below.


Two days before Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon, one of President Nixon’s speechwriters, William Safire, sent 12 sentences to President Nixon’s chief of staff.  The title of his memo: “In the event of moon disaster.”

Getting the astronauts to the moon was one thing, Nixon had been told. Getting them home was quite another.

“The most dangerous part of the moon mission was to get that lunar module back up into orbit of the moon and join the command ship,” Safire [recalled in 1999] just after the memo was released. “If they couldn’t, and there was a good risk that they couldn’t, then they would have to be abandoned on the moon – left to die there.”

Had Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin been stranded on the moon, President Nixon would have given the following address:

“Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.

These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin [Buzz] Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.

These two men are laying down their lives in mankind’s most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding.

They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be mourned by their nation; they will be mourned by the people of the world; they will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown.

In their exploration, they stirred the people of the world to feel as one; in their sacrifice, they bind more tightly the brotherhood of man.

In ancient days, men looked at stars and saw their heroes in the constellations. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood.

Others will follow, and surely find their way home. Man’s search will not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts.

For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.”

Those words by Safire never had to be spoken.  Armstrong, 82, died Saturday a national hero, just after the 43rd anniversary of his footstep that changed history.

Along with the flag Armstrong and Aldrin planted on the moon, they left a plaque. It is inscribed with other words that Safire wrote:   “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot on the moon. July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.”


Read about Neil Armstrong at:

and the Apollo 11 program at:

Visit the NASA Apollo 11 page at:

Watch a video:

[hana-flv-player video=”” width=”250″ description=”” player=”5″ autoload=”true” autoplay=”false” loop=”false” autorewind=”true” /]
Get Free Answers

Daily “Answers” emails are provided for Daily News Articles, Tuesday’s World Events and Friday’s News Quiz.