One of the greatest, and most humble heroes of the Twentieth Century has gone home to be with Christ. In the course of human events, only one person can be the very first to step foot on a new world, to be the very first to ever do so. That was Neil Armstrong.
There is courage, and then there is real courage. It took a heck of a lot of courage to sit atop the shuttle launch vehicle, but riding a Saturn V into orbit was something else, entirely. Only a handful of men did so. Neil Armstrong was one of those.
Riding the Saturn V into orbit was nothing compared to separating from our home planet and journeying to the moon, then landing. Could they land safely? Could they even leave safely and survive? What sort of contagion would they bring home with them? That was courage – real courage.
Before stepping out on to the surface of the moon, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin celebrated the Holy Eucharist. Aldrin, a LEM in the Episcopal church, took a LEM kit with him. As they waited to step onto the surface of a new world, the two men took communion.
When you visited with the real astronauts, the ones with the Right Stuff, they would talk about the pilots. Most, having been either fighter jocks or test pilots, judged one another, not by missions, but who was the best. Most put Dick Truly up there as one of the best. The one that they revered was Armstrong. There was a reason for this.
“…The objective of Apollo 11 was to land safely rather than to touch down with precision on a particular spot. Three minutes into the lunar descent burn, Armstrong noted that craters were passing about two seconds too early, which meant the Eagle would probably touch down beyond the planned landing zone by several miles.
As the Eagle’s landing radar acquired the surface, several computer error alarms appeared. The first was a code 1202 alarm, and even with their extensive training, neither Armstrong nor Aldrin was aware of what this code meant. They promptly received word from CAPCOM in Houston that the alarms were not a concern; the 1202 and 1201 alarms were caused by an executive overflow in the lunar module computer.
As described by Buzz Aldrin in the documentary In the Shadow of the Moon, the overflow condition was caused by his own counter-checklist choice of leaving the docking radar on during the landing process, so the computer had to process unnecessary radar data and did not have enough time to execute all tasks, dropping lower-priority ones. Aldrin stated that he did so with the objective of facilitating re-docking with the CM should an abort become necessary, not realizing that it would cause the overflow condition.
When Armstrong noticed they were heading towards a landing area which he believed was unsafe, he took over manual control of the LM, and attempted to find an area which seemed safer, taking longer than expected, and longer than most simulations had taken.
For this reason, there was concern from mission control that the LM was running low on fuel. Upon landing, Aldrin and Armstrong believed they had about 40 seconds worth of fuel to left, including the 20 seconds worth of fuel which had to be saved in the event of an abort.
During training, Armstrong had landed the LLTV with less than 15 seconds left on several occasions, and he was also confident the LM could survive a straight-down fall from 50 feet (15 m) if needed. Analysis after the mission showed that at touchdown there were 45 to 50 seconds of propellant burn time left.
The landing on the surface of the moon occurred at 20:17:39 UTC on July 20, 1969. When a sensor attached to the legs of the still hovering Lunar Module made lunar contact, a panel light inside the LM lit up and Aldrin called out, “Contact light.” As the LM settled on the surface Aldrin then said, “Okay. Engine stop,” and Armstrong said, “Shutdown.”
The first words Armstrong intentionally spoke to Mission Control and the world from the lunar surface were, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” Aldrin and Armstrong celebrated with a brisk handshake and pat on the back before quickly returning to the checklist of tasks needed to ready the lunar module for liftoff from the Moon should an emergency unfold during the first moments on the lunar surface.
During the critical landing, the only message from Houston was “30 seconds”, meaning the amount of fuel left. When Armstrong had confirmed touch-down, Houston expressed their worries during the manual landing as “You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again”…”
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds – and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long delirious, burning blue,
I’ve topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew –
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untresspassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.
Pilot Officer Gillespie Magee
No 412 squadron, RCAF
Killed 11 December 1941