When the then-US President Kennedy issued a call to put men on the moon before “the decade (1960) was up”, Neil Armstrong and the crew of Apollo 11 responded with mission success in 1969. But before and after the historic moon dust moment, the world’s beloved astronaut did many other things.
- He Was a Military Pilot Before Becoming an Astronaut
Neil Armstrong’s fascination with flight began not in space, but in the skies. Airplanes were a part of his childhood toys and at 6, his father took him on his first plane ride.
By the time he turned 9, he was building model wooden airplanes. Soon enough, he took flying lessons at a small airport near his Ohio home and at 16, enlisted with the US Navy as a military pilot.
In that time, he flew over 200 different aircraft, and joined 78 combat missions.
Then space called.
In 1955, at the age of 25, he joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (the predecessor to NASA).
At 36, he piloted his maiden space flight on Gemini 8, where he became the first person to successfully dock two vehicles in space.
Two years later, on 20 July 1969, over 600 million people witnessed the very first moon walk.
- He Was Nearly Killed in Combat
His first brush with death was in the Korean war of 1951, when he was just 21.
Armstrong was serving in the US Navy in the skies over North Korea, after the plane he was in was struck by anti-aircraft fire.
Before crashing, it collided with a pole, slicing off its right wing. He nearly landed in the sea, but ejected just before losing control. He was rescued unhurt and continued to fly nearly 80 more missions.
For his service, he was awarded 3 Air Medals.
- He Was a University Professor
He retired from NASA in 1971 at the age of 41. Following Apollo 11, Armstrong received many offers to teach in universities across the US, and settled on the University of Cincinnati.
He stayed for eight years, teaching aircraft design and flight mechanics.
Just before the age of 50, Armstrong resigned from UC – but he was not done yet.
After his academic career, he joined the business world.
There, he served for 10 years as chairman of Computing Technologies for Aviation and later as chairman of AIL Systems, a New York electronic systems company.
- He Wrote Poetry
While teaching in university, Armstrong dabbled in children’s poetry. One he wrote called “My Vacation”, describes his visit to the moon.
by Neil Armstrong
Nine Summers ago, I went for a visit.
To see if the moon was green cheese.
When we arrived, people on earth asked: “Is it?”
We answered: “No cheese, no bees, no trees.”
There were rocks and hills and a remarkable view
Of the beautiful earth that you know.
It’s a nice place to visit, and I’m certain that you
Will enjoy it when you get to go.
- He Couldn’t Afford Insurance for His Family
Neil Armstrong was NASA’s highest paid astronaut then. But insurance was extremely costly, especially for a man who was about to undertake arguably, the riskiest mission ever attempted by man.
So, about a month before the launch of Apollo 11, Neil Armstrong, along with Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins autographed hundreds of commemorative covers.
The signed posters were passed to a trusted friend with instructions to be sold on the day of the mission, so it could fetch the highest price.
Thankfully, it was not a one-way trip and today, they are known as the ‘Apollo Insurance Covers’.
A single autographed poster can fetch over US$5000 in auctions.