Who Was the First Man to Walk on the Moon?
Who Was the First Man to Walk on the Moon, Buzz Aldrin or Neil Armstrong?
As the Lunar Module Eagle descended toward the moon on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong didn't like what he saw. The automated landing program was carrying the fragile vehicle toward a field strewn with dangerous boulders. Taking over manual control, Armstrong methodically flew the tiny spacecraft toward a clear spot.
As Armstrong and co-pilot Buzz Aldrin flew low over the surface, the Eagle's fuel supply dwindled rapidly. Mission Control called up the numbers: 90 seconds. 60 seconds. 30 seconds. If they ran out of fuel this low, they would likely crash. Finally, Armstrong put Eagle down safely on the Sea of Tranquility. Less than 20 seconds of fuel remained.
He was calm and collected, with natural piloting ability and nerves of steel, and possessing the willingness to push the outside of the flight envelope. Tom Wolfe would famously dub these traits "the right stuff," and Armstrong had them in abundance. And that is why a man from a small midwestern town would be forever known as the one who was first man to walk on the moon.
Niel Armstrong, the first man to walk on the Moon
Born in Wapakoneta, Ohio, on August 5, 1930, Armstrong was fascinated with flying at an early age. He received his student pilot's license at age 16 even before he could legally drive. After graduating from high school, Armstrong studied aeronautical engineering at Purdue University under a U.S. Navy scholarship.
Called into active duty by the Navy, he flew 78 combat missions during the Korean War and received the Air Medal and two Gold Stars for his service. After returning from the war, he completed his studies at Purdue and became a test pilot.
Armstrong eventually made his way to Edwards Air Force Base in California, where he flew the X-15 and other advanced aircraft. The X-15 was America's most advanced rocket plane, capable of flying more than 50 miles above the Earth at speeds of up to Mach 6.7.
In 1962, NASA selected Armstrong and eight other pilots as part of its second group of astronauts. He underwent four years of training before being assigned as command pilot for the Gemini 8 mission. He and David Scott accomplished the first-ever docking in space when they linked to an Agena target vehicle. Their triumph was short-lived. A stuck thruster on their Gemini spacecraft caused the vehicles to spin out of control. Armstrong and Scott undocked from the two vehicles and brought Gemini under control.
For the Apollo program, Armstrong was teamed with Aldrin and Mike Collins on Apollo 11. When the flight assignments were made, no one knew which mission would be the first to attempt a Moon landing. But NASA officials judged Armstrong to be experienced enough to command such a flight.
In May 1969, Armstrong validated NASA's faith in him. The Lunar Landing Training Vehicle he was flying at low altitude suffered a control failure that sent it into a steep bank. Armstrong bailed out just in the nick of time; if he had waited another 0.5 seconds, his parachute would have failed to open. Two months later, he would land the Eagle on the moon just as time was running out.
Although he had shown nerves of steel when flying the Eagle, Armstrong experienced a bit of stage fright when he became the first man to walk on the Moon. "That's a small step for man, a giant leap for mankind," he said as he stepped onto the lunar surface with the entire world watching. He had meant to say "a man," a mistake that bothered him later. But, it mattered little; he had gotten the essential parts right.