Neil Armstrong: Biography, Facts & Moon Landing

Instructor: Christopher Prokes

Chris is an instructional designer and college faculty member. He has a Master's Degree in Education and also umpires baseball.

Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon. He came from a small town and emerged as an historic figure. In this lesson, discover the life of Neil Armstrong and his place in history. Then take a short quiz to see what you have learned.

A Voyage of Epic Proportions

Have you ever looked up at the moon on a clear night? Maybe you want to go there? At one time, that was unheard of. But in the 1960s, man found a way to voyage into the heavens. Then and now, those who travel into space are called astronauts and they accomplished many great things. One of the most famous astronauts, Neil Armstrong, was the first man to set foot on the moon in July, 1969. A military man and later a college professor, Armstrong managed to stay out of the limelight after his famous mission. Let's explore this important figure by looking at Armstrong's early life, his NASA service, and his place in the history books.

A Small Town Military Man

Neil A. Armstrong was born August 5, 1930 in Wapakoneta, Ohio. After graduating from high school in 1947, Neil attended Purdue University in Indiana on a scholarship from the U.S. Navy. Later, he was called into active service to fight in the Korean War. Flying nearly 80 combat missions, Armstrong was awarded 3 medals for his actions.

  • FACT: Armstrong excelled as a child; he earned the rank of Eagle Scout and was a licensed pilot at age 16, before he could even drive.

After the war, Armstrong finished college and then earned a master's degree from the University of Southern California. He was hired by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), an early predecessor to NASA, and eventually landed at Edwards Air Force Base in California where he served as a test pilot. On one of his flights Armstrong traveled more than 40 miles up into space and reached a speed of 4,000 mph. For comparison, a plane on a cross country flight will travel at an elevation of approximately 6.5 miles and cruise at 665 mph.

Armstrong as a test pilot at Edwards AFB
test pilot

Apollo 11: For All Mankind

Given Armstrong's test pilot experience, he was a perfect choice to be an astronaut. NASA selected him to join their second group of spacemen in 1962. Four years later he would go on his first mission, Gemini 8, with David Scott. There were technical issues on their trip that almost cost him and Scott their lives. Fortunately, the ever-smart Armstrong managed to take control of the situation and allow their craft to re-enter Earth and land safely.

Neil was then selected to command Apollo 11. When the Apollo astronauts were chosen, they were unaware which mission would actually be the first to land. Each mission in the program had to be successful for the next one to push the limits further. It worked out that Apollo 11 would make the first attempt, and on July 16, 1969 Armstrong, Edwin 'Buzz' Aldrin, and Michael Collins blasted off from Florida for a rendezvous with the moon.

Apollo 11 crew: Neil Armstrong (l), Michael Collins (c), Buzz Aldrin (r)

On July 20, 1969 Armstrong proudly declared, 'The Eagle has landed' as he and Aldrin landed safely. Six hours later, Armstrong would be the first man to set foot on another body in the solar system. Upon making the first step on the moon, Armstrong remarked, 'That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.' He and Aldrin spent two hours on the surface collecting rocks, planting the American flag, and getting a feel for future missions as their trip paved the way for five more landings.

  • FACT: There are many active conspiracies that believe Armstrong did not land on the moon. Some believe that his voyage was actually shot in a studio, among other theories.

The Apollo 11 crew returned to Earth as heroes, and not just in the United States. Parades and trips to meet people around the world awaited them on their return and they visited more than 20 countries. They were presented with medals and honorary degrees and became overnight celebrities.

Armstrong take the first step on the moon
on the surface

  • FACT: An estimated 600 million people watched Armstrong set foot on the moon. People everywhere stopped to witness the historic moment, including the New York Yankees, who were hosting the Washington Senators that day.

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