Neil Armstrong made history on July 20, 1969, by becoming the first man on the moon, but he didn't brag about his experiences on Apollo 11. Facts surrounding the historic mission are more well-known than the story of the man who took that first step. Armstrong was such a soft-spoken and levelheaded guy - he might have been forgotten if it weren't for his accomplishments in space travel.
Unlike his outspoken crewmate Buzz Aldrin, Armstrong refused to become a celebrity or take advantage of his fame. Neil Armstrong facts reveal a lifelong commitment to flying and acting for the greater good that earned him an opportunity as an astronaut. His humble personality left some people cold, but Armstrong gained their respect and received the commander assignment that would make him famous. His team accomplished its goal with millions of television viewers looking on, despite the persistence of moon landing conspiracies. Armstrong may not reign as one of history's most prominent personalities, but his dedication, commitment, and humility were essential in helping America reach the moon.
Many people had rocketed into space before it was Apollo 11's turn, but since they'd be the first to land on alien soil, piloting the lunar module safely down to the actual surface of the moon was an untested experience. Neil Armstrong had practiced with simulations on Earth and, luckily, was prepared when alarms in the module went off 33,000 feet above the lunar surface. Ground controllers let them know the onboard computer was overloading with too much data.
As he took partial manual control over the lander, Armstrong realized the automated landing system had sent the module to a spot miles away from the intended landing site and toward dangerously large boulders. Armstrong took over complete manual control of the craft and looked through the moon fog for a clear space to land, knowing he was using more fuel than planned. With less than 50 seconds of fuel remaining, Armstrong managed to safely bring the lunar module to rest on the moon's surface.
Neil Armstrong's ability to handle potentially dangerous flight situations was tested several times before he boarded Apollo 11. As a part of the 1966 Gemini 8 mission, Armstrong successfully helped complete the first docking of two spacecraft while in orbit. While those on the ground initially celebrated, a technical malfunction sent the connected craft into a dangerous spin. Spinning so fast that his vision blurred, Armstrong acted quickly and used the re-entry system to fix the problem after trying other countermeasures, abruptly aborting the mission to get himself and his crewmate safely back to Earth.
Armstrong spent most of his time after the Gemini 8 mission testing and perfecting a module simulating a lunar landing. He found himself in another emergency situation testing this vehicle two years later. During a test flight 200 feet above the ground, the module began spinning in circles and smoking. Seconds before it crashed to the ground, Armstrong escaped via parachute and then went back to work in the hangar, seemingly unshaken by the near-death experience.
The fact that Apollo 11 became the first space mission to land on the moon was partially the work of fate. Incremental advancements made by Apollo 8, 9, and 10 had gradually increased NASA's confidence in completing a successful moon landing, and Apollo 11 was given the go-ahead to attempt the feat. While it's possible Neil Armstrong was named commander of that particular flight for merely being next in line, space program reporter Jay Barbree wrote in Neil Armstrong: A Life of Flight that Armstrong's dedication to mastering control of the lunar landing training vehicle, his experience as a test pilot, and his humble, non-competitive attitude earned him the spot on the critical mission.
Who would exit the lunar module first and make history was another matter. Buzz Aldrin lobbied hard for the honor even though Armstrong was the commander. In line with his well-meaning attitude, Armstrong refused to get involved in the discussion, claiming the decision was entirely up to NASA officials. It's believed the deciding factor in the debate came down to the layout of the module and the fact that Armstrong's seat was closest to the hatch.
While other astronauts went on to write books about their accomplishments and Buzz Aldrin made headlines for punching a conspiracy theorist in the face, Neil Armstrong remained a mostly private individual after returning to Earth. Many of his fellow astronauts and co-workers thought of him as a cold person due to his reserved, no-frills personality. Armstrong is often given credit for his humility. His ex-wife, Janet, also pointed out he felt guilty for getting so much individual attention for something that was a group effort.
Rumors that Armstrong became a recluse after the Apollo 11 mission are not entirely accurate. Although he tended to remove himself from the spotlight, Armstrong participated in the world tour the crew embarked on after the historic event, and he continued to attend and speak at events held in remembrance of the moon landing in the following years. Not taking advantage of his fame, Armstrong maintained his interest in aeronautics by working as an administrator at NASA, teaching aerospace engineering at the University of Cincinnati, and serving on a commission to determine what went wrong in the Challenger explosion.