The world remembers Neil Armstrong as the first man to step on the Moon. The American astronaut, who would have been 89 today, embarked on the historical Apollo 11 mission to the Moon half-a-century ago, in 1969. The landing on the Moon is regarded as the greatest achievement of the 20th century, but only a few know that it was far from being a cakewalk. The trio crew, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, who flew into space under NASA’s banner risked their lives at every stage of the program.
After the crew of the first manned Apollo mission, Apollo 1, claimed three lives in a tragic cabin fire during a launch rehearsal, the Apollo 11 astronauts knew the gravity of the risk that awaited them as they blasted off to the Moon on July 16, 1969. On Neil Armstrong’s 89 birth anniversary, let’s acquaint ourselves of the challenges faced by the NASA astronaut, and how he came to be known as the biggest spaceflight maverick the world has ever had.
Born on August 5, 1930, Neil’s passion for aviation and flight was kindled when he took his first airplane ride at the age of 6. He became a licensed pilot on his 16th birthday and a naval air cadet in 1947. He then went on to pursue a degree in aeronautical engineering at Purdue University, Indiana, United States which were interrupted in 1950 by his service in the Korean War. The Air Medal awardee became a civilian research pilot or the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), later, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). He flew more than 1,100 hours, testing various supersonic fighters as well as the X-15 rocket plane.
Because of his background in aviation, military and experimental aircraft test flights, Neil was working in a way we wouldn’t possibly contemplate today, in terms of the risks taken. While flying the rocket-powered X-15 on the edge of space in 1962, Armstrong was almost stranded in space as the aircraft skimmed on the Earth’s atmosphere. But, having the nerves of steel that he did, Neil flew a trajectory that dragged him back down towards the ground. This is the courageous spirit we’re talking about!
Since then, Commander Armstrong had a fair share of near-death experiences such as the one during the Gemini 8 mission in 1966, where a critical malfunction of the spacecraft’s thrusters threw the astronaut and his fellow co-pilot David Scott into a near-fatal spin above Earth. Commander Armstrong came dangerously close to passing out from the G-forces exerted by the spin but he stabilized the aircraft and aborted the mission just in time.
In 1969, just a year before flying to the Moon, Commander Armstrong almost got killed when a Lunar Landing Training Vehicle (LLTV) crashed into a training accident moments before the jet-powered vehicle was blown into flames.
Talking about the pinnacle of his career, the Apollo 11 mission had seen 18 deaths of U.S astronauts and Russian cosmonauts who have died in spaceflight, excluding non-spaceflight activities such as the tragic Apollo 11 disaster. Armstrong’s last brush with death came during the Moon landing itself when Apollo 11’s Lunar Module Eagle was thrown off-course towards a lunar crater covered in boulders. In the frightening course, alarms went blaring and the on-board computers overloaded with navigational data. Commander Armstrong, had to manually guide the Eagle to a clear landing spot. The astronaut soundly touched down in the Moon’s Sea of Tranquility with less than 30 seconds of fuel left!
The nail-biting descent on the Moon ended with these words rolling out of Armstrong, “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” (In the excitement of the moment, Armstrong skipped the “a” in the statement that he had prepared!) Armstrong and Aldrin left the module, and during their two hours on the Moon, they installed scientific instruments, collected surface samples, and took numerous photographs.
After spending 21 hours and 36 minutes on the Moon, they lifted off to the spacecraft reuniting with Collins who was in the lunar orbit, and began their voyage back to Earth. After the splashdown in the Pacific on July 24, the three astronauts spent 18 days in quarantine to guard against possible contamination by lunar microbes.
And thus, Neil Armstrong came to be hailed for his part in opening of a new era in human exploration of the universe!
Original Source: https://in.mashable.com/science/5471/89th-birth-anniversary-of-neil-armstrong-the-spaceflight-maverick-who-first-set-foot-on-the-moon