Continued from page 2

In the Australian interview, Armstrong acknowledged that “now and then I miss the excitement about being in the cockpit of an airplane and doing new things.”

At the time of the flight’s 40th anniversary, Armstrong again was low-key, telling a gathering that the space race was “the ultimate peaceful competition: USA versus U.S.S.R. It did allow both sides to take the high road with the objectives of science and learning and exploration.”

Glenn, who went through jungle training in Panama with Armstrong as part of the astronaut program, described him as “exceptionally brilliant” with technical matters but “rather retiring, doesn’t like to be thrust into the limelight much.”

Derek Elliott, curator of the Smithsonian Institution’s U.S. Air and Space Museum from 1982 to 1992, said the moonwalk probably marked the high point of space exploration.

The manned lunar landing was a boon to the prestige of the United States, which had been locked in a space race with the former Soviet Union, and re-established U.S. pre-eminence in science and technology, Elliott said.

“The fact that we were able to see it and be a part of it means that we are in our own way witnesses to history,” he said.

The 1969 landing met an audacious deadline that President John F. Kennedy had set in May 1961, shortly after Alan Shepard became the first American in space with a 15-minute suborbital flight. (Soviet cosmonaut Yuri A. Gagarin had orbited the Earth and beaten the U.S. into space the previous month.)

“I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth,” Kennedy had said. “No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important to the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”

The end-of-decade goal was met with more than five months to spare. “Houston: Tranquility Base here,” Armstrong radioed after the spacecraft settled onto the moon. “The Eagle has landed.”

“Roger, Tranquility,” Apollo astronaut Charles Duke radioed back from Mission Control. “We copy you on the ground. You’ve got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a lot.”

The third astronaut on the mission, Michael Collins, circled the moon in the mother ship Columbia 60 miles overhead while Armstrong and Aldrin went to the moon’s surface.

“He was the best, and I will miss him terribly,” Collins said through NASA.

In all, 12 American astronauts walked on the moon from 1969 to the last moon mission in 1972.

For Americans, reaching the moon provided uplift and respite from the Vietnam War, from strife in the Middle East, from the startling news just a few days earlier that a young woman had drowned in a car driven off a wooden bridge on Chappaquiddick Island by Sen. Edward Kennedy. The landing occurred as organizers were gearing up for Woodstock, the legendary three-day rock festival on a farm in the Catskills of New York.

Armstrong was born Aug. 5, 1930, on a farm near Wapakoneta in western Ohio. He took his first airplane ride at age 6 and developed a fascination with aviation that prompted him to build model airplanes and conduct experiments in a homemade wind tunnel.

Story Continues →