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Armstrong, Neil (1930-2012) | Purdue University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections

Name: Armstrong, Neil (1930-2012)

Historical Note:

Neil Alden Armstrong was born near Wapakoneta, Ohio on August 5, 1930 to Viola Louise Engel Armstrong and Stephen Koenig Armstrong. He was an active member of the Boy Scouts of America and earned the rank of Eagle Scout. At the age of 16, in 1946, he earned his student pilot certificate. He graduated from Blume High School in Wapakoneta, Ohio and having been accepted to the Navy’s Naval Aviation College Program, attended college at Purdue University beginning the fall of 1947. His studies in aeronautical engineering were interrupted in the spring of 1949 when he was called to military duty. His active military service spanned 1949 – 1952. He served as a Naval aviator in the Korean War during which he flew 78 combat missions. In 1952 he resumed his studies at Purdue University and received a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering in 1955. In 1955 he accepted a position as an Aeronautical Test Pilot at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics’ (NACA) Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory in Cleveland, Ohio.  Later in 1955 he would join NACA’s aeronautical research pilots at the High-Speed Flight Station at Edwards Air Force Base, in California. From 1955 until 1962 he flew a number of experimental aircraft including the X-1B, the F-100C, the X-15. He authored and  co-authored a number of research papers during this period and also conducted research as a pilot-engineer on the developing Dyna-Soar project.

In 1962 Armstrong transferred NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston as one of the nine astronaut trainees of the astronaut class of 1962.  Along with astronaut training activities, he was given the responsibilities for operations and training under Alan Shepard, chief of the astronauts. One of his tasks was to calculate how many crews were needed at any one point in time to meet the requirements of the program’s goals. He served in supporting roles for Mercury 9, his first flight crew assignment was as backup commander to Gordon Cooper on Gemini V. Throughout this period his work responsibilities were divided between general training, planning and calculations of the best “trajectories and sequences of events,” and in lab spacecraft systems tests and simulations. (see Hansen, 235) He served in a supporting role for Gemini III, command pilot for Gemini VIII that launched in March 1966. He served as commander of Apollo 11 that launched in July 1969 and became the first human to walk on the moon. Following the Apollo 11 mission, he embarked on the “Giant Step” world tour and later a Bob Hope USO Tour. He received numerous awards, achievement medals, and honors following the Apollo 11 mission.

In 1970 he earned his Master’s degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Southern California. From 1970 -1971 he served as Deputy Associate Administrator for Aerospace in NASA’s Office of Advanced Research and Technology. From 1971 through 1979 he taught and conducted research as Professor of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Cincinnati. Armstrong served on several corporate boards including Cardwell International, Gates Learjet Corporation, Marathon Oil Company, United Airlines, U.S. Steel Corporation, and Space Industries International.  He also consulted on issues of management as well as on aerospace. He served on commissions including the Presidential Advisory Committee for the Peace Corps, the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident, the National Commission on Space, and the NASA Advisory Council. He was also a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the Academy of the Kingdom of Morocco.  He wrote and delivered hundreds of speeches throughout his professional career and into his retirement. He continued to receive fan mail until his death in 2012. He was married to Janet Shearon from 1956-1994, and to Carol Held Knight from 1994 to 2012. Neil Armstrong died on August 25, 2012 following complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures.


Neil A. Armstrong Papers, 1671 – 2012. The Virginia Kelly Karnes Archives and Special Collections Research Center, Purdue University Libraries, West Lafayette.

Neil Armstrong: Engineer, Pilot, Astronaut, Teacher Commemorative Website. University of Cincinnati. Website. Accessed 18 November 2014. http://digitalprojects.libraries.uc.edu/armstrong/index.html

Hansen, James R. First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005.

Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center Biographical Data Website. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Website. Accessed 18 November 2014. http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/armstrong-na.html

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