Farewell Neil Armstrong

The first known manned spacecraft to land on the surface of the moon did so on July 20th 1969. It was a flight of America’s Apollo space program. The mission was designated, Apollo 11.

At a crucial moment during the lunar module’s descent from its orbit to the surface of the moon, the onboard guidance computer controlling the craft’s fuel flow, rocket burn and target trajectory, a device that provided vital information to facilitate the crews landing on a chosen and predetermined spot started to malfunction sending out fluctuating readings, that triggered a flurry of alarms and flashing warning lights in the spacecraft’s cockpit.

The lunar module commander promptly took over the controls, and in a calm and professional manner manually corrected the error and landed the craft safely on the surface of the moon, away from the debris strewn surface that the erroneous computer had been automatically guiding it towards.

The coffee wired and stressed out technicians at Mission Control at the Houston Space Centre who were nervously monitoring the near fatal mishap, shook their heads in awe, when they calculated the modules fuel reserve, and found to their amazement, that the craft’s gas tank had 25 seconds of fuel remaining after it had finally touched down.

The two astronauts who stepped out of the lunar module, spent two and a half hours (2.5) of EVA – extra vehicular activity on the lunar surface, and a total of twenty-one and a half hours (21.5) on the moon, before blasting off to rendezvous with their mother ship that was circling above, awaiting their return to transport them back to earth.

Apollo 11’s crew was comprised of three astronauts. The astronaut in control of the craft circling the moon was Michael Collins. The second man to descend to and walk on the moon’s surface was Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin. But the man of the moment was undoubtedly the third man. The commander of the mission, the one who landed the craft so unerringly onto the moon’s surface, the person who was to step onto the moon before any other would, and the human being chosen to declare those now famous words, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”. This man’s name was Neil Armstrong.

Neil Armstrong died of complications occurring from heart problems at his home in Cincinnati Ohio in the US on Saturday the 25th of August at the age of 82. Being a pilot myself, I have always held Neil Armstrong in very high regard. Not only because of his proven flying skills and professionalism, or because of his personal accomplishments that would be hard to match in any field of endeavour.

But  because he was a man who was of such a gentle, shy and unaffected nature, who went out of his way, over the ensuing years, to shun the limelight that was his for the taking, after the moon landing in 1969. Instead of making money on book tours or self aggrandizement, he returned to academia and led a modest and peaceful life.

Today, the materialistic gimme gimme society that we live in is somewhat dominated by craven politicians, star athletes who turn out disappointingly to be drug cheats, and a plethora of false priests who misrepresent the higher power on a daily basis. It is therefore a breath of fresh air to have someone of indisputable consequence to be able to write about in a praiseworthy fashion.

I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the passing of a good man, who was a test pilot par excellence, an aerospace engineer of some renown, and a college professor who commanded great respect.

A shy and reluctant hero, Neil Armstrong succeeded in becoming the first man to accomplish what other men could only have dreamt of doing, prior to 20th July 1969. He was the first man, we know of, to have stepped onto another world.

As the plaudits and tributes flow in, his family and nation should be comforted and assured, that he would not be forgotten.

Godspeed Neil Armstrong. You set the bar real high.

Roger Byer

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