Neil Armstrong

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L to R John Becker, Neil Armstrong, Roy Harris, and Dick Whitcomb in Unitary Tunnel


[top] Connections to Langley

Neil Armstrong interrupted his studies in aeronautical engineering in 1949 when he was called to serve in the Korean War. A U.S. Navy pilot, Armstrong flew 78 combat missions during this military conflict. He left the service in 1952, and returned to college. A few years later, Armstrong joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), where he worked in a number of different capacities, including serving as a test pilot and an engineer. He tested many high-speed aircraft, including the X-15. In 1963, Armstrong moved with the space program to Houston, Texas. Armstrong remained with NASA, serving as deputy associate administrator for aeronautics until 1971.

On July 20,1969, Neil Armstrong, became the first human to walk on the moon after practicing with the simulator in May of 1969. Training with the simulator, part of Langleys Lunar Landing Research Facility, allowed the [

Apollo astronauts to study and safely overcome problems that could have occurred during the final 150-foot descent to the surface of the moon. NASA needed such a facility in order to explore and develop techniques for landing the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) on the moons surface, where gravity is only one-sixth as strong as on the Earth, as well as to determine the limits of human piloting capabilities in the new surroundings. This unique facility, completed in 1965 and now a National Historic Landmark, effectively canceled all but one-sixth of Earths gravitational force by using an overhead cable system. Armstrong offered what was perhaps the greatest tribute to the importance of the LLRF in the success of the Apollo program. When asked what it was like to land on the Moon, he replied: “Like Langley.” (See US Postal Service stamps issued in September 1969 depicting the "First Man on the Moon.")

In 2007, the center celebrated 90 years. Among the various activities was a luncheon attended by Neil Armstrong and members of the NAC. Armstrong shared some brief remarks based on the following recorded notes.

I am genuinely pleased to be here with the NASA National Advisory Council here at Langley. As a member of the senior citizen section of the NAC, I think I am the only person here who was an employee of the NACA. Although I never was employed by what was, at that time, known as Langley Laboratory, I visited here many times for meetings and project work from my positions at Lewis Lab (now Glenn), the NACA High Speed Flight Station (now Dryden) and later from the Manned Spacecraft Center (now Johnson) and NASA Headquarters.

Some of you in the NAC may not have visited here before. You may have learned some of the history from your tour yesterday. You should know that Langley was the first government aeronautical laboratory in the United States, and many will say, the greatest. Established in 1917, Langley celebrates its ninetieth birthday this year.

If a competition were held to determine that organization that had accomplished the largest number of advancements to aeronautical and aerospace progress, my nomination would be this place. General Lyles might nominate Wright Field (if he were permitted to include McCook Field) and I would understand his nomination. But I think I would win!

If there were a list of the 100 people who contributed most to progress in the world of flight, I believe Langley would provide the most names. Without question, many of the giants of aero research spent their careers here, and many others, who learned their craft here, went on to lead other research efforts at other government labs and in industry. Langley has been a powerhouse of creative thinking.

Research can be directed. Someone, no doubt, directed that a complete reference work on airfoils and their lift drag characteristics with and without flaps be created and assembled for designers across the country and beyond, and it was done, done well, and was probably more useful than could ever have been imagined.

But the most creative work was performed from the bottom up. A multitude of innovations sprung from the minds of Langley researchers who were given the opportunity, the test facilities, and the collegial environment to do superb work.

Many of you know of the writings of the aviator and author, Antoine, de Saint Exupery, who wrote THE LITTLE PRINCE, NIGHT FLIGHT, and WIND, SAND, AND STARS. His unique view of leadership was captured in his novel, THE WISDOM OF THE SANDS. He wrote: 'If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea. (email dated 19 October 2007 from Holly McVey, research assistant to Mr. Armstrong (, to Langley director Lesa Roe.)

[top] Interviews

Neil Armstrong was a very private person who rarely gave interviews and sought to exploit his international fame. He did infrequently appear before a Congressional Committee to give short statements when called upon to do so - out of a sense of duty to his country.

In a very rare interview May 2012, Armstrong did an oral history interview of his career with the CPA Association of Australia - because his father was an accountant and county auditor.

Video footage of landing on the moon.

[top] Photos

[top] Documents

NASA Biography of Neil Armstrong


NASA Condolences

NASA Message on Passing of Neil Armstrong

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