Over the weekend I was surprised to hear that Neil Armstrong had died. I knew he'd had a heart attack or heart incident the other week, but it sounded like they'd caught it in time.
Most of the missile booster era astronauts were military test pilots. Neil was a NASA civilian astronaut. There were always people who thought he'd gone that route to be politic. He was, after all, a naval aviator in the Korean War and resigned his commission around 1960. But I always thought that he didn't want to serve two masters -- he joined NASA to be an engineer and test pilot.
I am, and ever will be, a white-socks, pocket-protector, nerdy engineer, born under the second law of thermodynamics, steeped in steam tables, in love with free-body diagrams, transformed by Laplace and propelled by compressible flow.Others carped about the scraps that he got into, but hell, test flights and space missions are dangerous, and he did walk away from those flights.
I thought he'd earned his astronaut wings on the X-15. But in his seven flights on two of the three X-15s he reached only some 39 miles (!) in altitude and just shy of 4000 mph. On one of those flights the X-15 went squirrelly on him and he had to regain control.
Neil Armstrong and X-15 56-6670 (I think).
From the desert dry lake beds, Neil went into the second class of NASA astronauts and flew on Gemini VIII with Dave Scott. This was the second attempt to dock with an Agena target vehicle after Gemini VI's Atlas-Agena exploded during launch.
Neil Armstrong in Gemini VIII.
The docking was successful, but a stuck thruster on the Gemini forced a separation and an early emergency landing.
Agena docking vehicle seen from Gemini VIII.
During the ramp up to the Apollo moon landing missions, Neil had to fly the infamous LLTV -- Lunar Lander Training Vehicle -- a nasty open frame that combined a lunar module descent engine with a vertical jet designed to cancel 5/6ths of the LLTV's weight.
Neil Armstrong and the sinister looking LLTV.
Another control problem and with seconds to spare, Neil ejected safely.
The LLTV crapping out. This is test flight.
History Channel was running the 2009 TV movie Moonshot today. First man on the moon. What I loved about Neil Armstrong is that he`was there for the mission -- had no use for the fame. With his status, he was never going to fly in space again and he "retired" to teaching engineering.
So I recognize his achievements and contributions, as I think he'd want. And as I'll point out on Friday (DW), when you look up at the Moon sometime, his boot prints will be there for a long time.
There Was A Time...
... when news organizations would have obits already set for famous people. I suppose we can be grateful that the person typing this breaking news story on the web didn't pick Lance Armstrong's name. But really.
Of course, not everyone got the Right Stuff memo.