What Made Neil Armstrong the Right Man to Be First on the Moon, as Told in 1969


Neil Armstrong’s stoic nature and personal challenges are at the center of Damien Chazelle’s new film First Man, in which Ryan Gosling portrays the legendary moon walker. As Armstrong, Gosling brings out the astronaut’s quiet side — one that his contemporaries couldn’t help but notice. A 1969 profile of the Apollo 11 crew in TIME calls Armstrong “tight-lipped and phlegmatic” as well as “an inscrutable loner.”

His wife Janet told LIFE at the time: “Silence is a Neil Armstrong answer. The word no is an argument.”

But beneath the quiet surface, Armstrong had a certain something that left him particularly qualified to make history.

As TIME noted in 1969, Armstrong, at first a civilian test pilot for NASA, did not initially have any intention of becoming an astronaut. But as other pilots were brought into the space program, he changed his mind. He was chosen to be an astronaut in 1962. And yet, in some ways, it was as if he had been preparing all his life:

Last spring, he spent two full days with his father and never once bothered to mention that the day after they parted he was going to be officially named as the first man to set foot on the moon. With his sandy hair, innocent blue eyes and boyish smile, he looks as though he has just stepped out of a Norman Rockwell painting. More than any other astronaut, Neil Armstrong epitomizes small-town America.

He was born in Wapakoneta, Ohio (pop. 7,500), the son of a career civil servant who is now assistant director of the state’s Department of Mental Hygiene and Correction. As a youth, Neil limited his social life mainly to school and church functions; when he went out with a girl it was usually on a double date to the ice-cream parlor. He played baritone horn in the school band. He studied hard, and while his teachers do not remember Armstrong as a particularly brilliant student, he impressed them all with the thorough, meticulous way he went about his work. Says Professor Paul E. Stanley, who taught Neil aerodynamics at Purdue: “He was a Boy Scout [in fact, he made Eagle Scout at 17], and he literally lived up to the motto ‘Be Prepared.’ ”

Armstrong first set eyes on an airplane at the age of two, and he made his first flight at six in an old Ford tri-motor. As a boy, he was forever assembling model airplanes, and while other youngsters were still scrambling for comic books, he went right for the aeronautical publications when the magazine shipments arrived on the stands. He worked part time in the drugstore (40¢ an hour) and as a grease monkey at the airfield to accumulate the money for flying lessons ($9 an hour), and earned his pilot’s license on his 16th birthday, the first day he was eligible. For a while, he had to bicycle the three miles between Wapakoneta and the field; Neil Armstrong was flying planes before he had a driver’s license.

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Source:: Time – Science

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