First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong

First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong

by James R. Hansen


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On July 20, 1969, the world stood still to watch thirty-eight-year-old American astronaut Neil A. Armstrong become the first person ever to step on the surface of another heavenly body. Perhaps no words in human history became better known than those few he uttered at that historic moment.

Upon his return to Earth, Armstrong was honored and celebrated for his monumental achievement. He was also -- as James R. Hansen reveals in this fascinating and important authorized biography -- misunderstood. Armstrong's accomplishments as an engineer, a test pilot, and an astronaut have long been a matter of record, but Hansen's unprecedented access to private documents and unpublished sources and his interviews with more than 125 subjects (including more than fifty hours with Armstrong himself) yield this first in-depth analysis of an elusive American celebrity still renowned the world over.

In a riveting narrative filled with revelations, Hansen vividly re-creates Armstrong's career in flying, from his seventy-eight combat missions as a naval aviator flying over North Korea to his formative transatmospheric flights in the rocket-powered X-15 to his piloting Gemini VIII to the first-ever docking in space. These milestones made it seem, as Armstrong's mother, Viola, memorably put it, "as if from the very moment he was born -- farther back still -- that our son was somehow destined for the Apollo 11 mission."

For a pilot who cared more about flying to the Moon than he did about walking on it, Hansen asserts, Armstrong's storied vocation exacted a dear personal toll, paid in kind by his wife and children. For the thirty-six years since the Moon landing, rumors have swirled around Armstrong concerning his dreams of space travel, his religious beliefs, and his private life.

In a penetrating exploration of American hero worship, Hansen addresses the complex legacy of the First Man, as an astronaut and as an individual. In First Man, the personal, technological, epic, and iconic blend to form the portrait of a great but reluctant hero who will forever be known as history's most famous space traveler.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781476727813
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 11/27/2012
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 784
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.60(d)

About the Author

James R. Hansen is a professor emeritus of history at Auburn University. A former historian for NASA, Hansen is the author of twelve books on the history of aerospace and a two-time nominee for the Pulitzer Prize in History. His 1995 book Spaceflight Revolution was nominated for the Pulitzer by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the only time NASA ever nominated a book for the prize. He serves as coproducer for the upcoming major motion picture First Man, which is based on his New York Times bestselling biography of Neil Armstrong. Hansen lives in Auburn, Alabama.

Read an Excerpt

First Man

The Life of Neil A. Armstrong
By James R. Hansen

Simon & Schuster

Copyright © 2005 James R. Hansen
All right reserved.

ISBN: 074325631X

Prologue: The Launch

After the Moon mission was over and the Apollo 11 astronauts were back on Earth, Buzz Aldrin remarked to Neil Armstrong, "Neil, we missed the whole thing."

Somewhere between 750,000 and 1 million people, the largest crowd ever for a space launch, gathered at Florida's Cape Kennedy in the days leading to Wednesday, July 16, 1969. Nearly a thousand policemen, state troopers, and waterborne state conservation patrolmen struggled through the previous night to keep an estimated 350,000 cars and boats flowing on the roads and waterways. One enterprising state auto inspector leased two miles of roadside from orange growers, charging two bucks a head for viewing privileges. For $1.50 apiece, another entrepreneur sold pseudo-parchment attendance certificates with simulated Old English lettering; an additional $2.95 bought a pseudo space pen.

No tailgate party at any Southeastern Conference football game could match the summer festival preceding the first launch for a Moon landing. Sunglassed spectators dressed in Bermuda shorts or undressed in bikinis, even at this early hour firing up barbecue grills, opening coolers of beer and soda pop, peering through binoculars and telescopes, testing camera angles and lenses -- people filled every strand of sand, every oil-streaked pier, every fish-smelling jetty.

Sweltering in 90-degree heat by midmorning, bitten up by mosquitoes, still aggravated by traffic jams or premium tourist prices, the great mass of humanity waited patiently for the mammoth Saturn V to shoot Apollo 11 toward the Moon.

In the Banana River, five miles south of the launch complex, all manner of boats choked the watercourse. Companies such as Grumman Aircraft had hired the larger charters for the day to give their employees a chance to witness the product of their years of effort. Aboard a large cabin cruiser, the Grapefruit II, wealthy citrus grower George Lier of Orchid Island, Florida, playfully tossed grapefruit at passersby. Just offshore, two small African-American boys sat in a ramshackle rowboat casually watching the mayhem that was making it so hard to catch any fish.

On a big motor cruiser owned by North American Aviation, builder of the Apollo command module, Janet Armstrong, the wife of Apollo 11's commander, and her two boys, twelve-year-old Rick and six-year-old Mark, stood nervously awaiting the launch. Fellow astronaut Dave Scott, Neil's mate on the Gemini VIII flight in 1966, had arranged what Janet called a "numero uno spot." Besides Scott, two of Janet's friends -- Pat Spann, a neighbor from El Lago, Texas, whose husband worked in the Manned Spacecraft Center's Mission Support Office, and Jeanette Chase, who helped Janet coach the synchronized swimming team at the El Lago Keys Club and whose husband served in the Recovery Division at MSC -- were also on board, as were a few NASA public affairs officers and Dora Jane (Dodie) Hamblin, a journalist with exclusive coverage of the personal side of the Apollo 11 story for Life magazine.

Above them all, helicopters ferried successive groups of VIPs to reserved bleacher seating in the closest viewing stands a little more than three miles away from the launchpad. Of the nearly 20,000 on NASA's special guest list, about one-third actually attended, including a few hundred foreign ministers, ministers of science, military attaches, and aviation officials, as well as nineteen U.S. state governors, forty mayors, and a few hundred leaders of American business and industry. Half the members of Congress were in attendance, as were a couple of Supreme Court justices. The guest list ranged from General William Westmoreland, the U.S. army chief of staff in charge of the war in Vietnam, and Johnny Carson, the star of NBC's Tonight Show, to Leon Schachter, head of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workers, and Prince Napoleon of Paris, a direct descendant of the emperor Napoleon.

Vice President Spiro T. Agnew sat in the bleachers while President Richard M. Nixon watched on TV from the Oval Office. Originally, the White House had planned for Nixon to dine with the Apollo 11 astronauts the night before liftoff, but the plan changed after Dr. Charles Berry, the astronauts' chief physician, was quoted in the press warning that there was always a chance that the president might unknowingly be harboring an incipient cold. Armstrong, Aldrin, and the third member of their crew, Mike Collins, thought the medical concern was absurd; if the truth be known, twenty or thirty people -- secretaries, space suit technicians, simulator technicians -- were coming into daily contact. Apollo 8's Frank Borman, whom NASA had designated as Nixon's special space consultant, assailed Berry's warning as "totally ridiculous" and "damned stupid" but stopped short of arguing for another reversal of plans, "because if anyone sneezes on the Moon, they'd put the blame on the president."

Two thousand credentialed reporters watched the launch from the Kennedy Space Center press site. Eight hundred and twelve came from foreign countries, 111 from Japan alone. A dozen journalists came from the Soviet bloc: seven from Czechoslovakia, three from Yugoslavia, and two from Romania.

Landing on the Moon was a shared global event which nearly all humankind felt transcended politics. British papers used two- and three-inch high type to herald news of the launch. In Spain, the Evening Daily Pueblo, though critical of American foreign policy, sent twenty-five contest winners on an all-expense-paid trip to Cape Kennedy. A Dutch editorialist called his country "lunar-crazy." A Czech commentator remarked, "This is the America we love, one so totally different from the America that fights in Vietnam." The popular German paper Bild Zeitung noted that seven of the fifty-seven Apollo supervisors were of German origin; the paper chauvinistically concluded, "12 percent of the entire Moon output is 'made in Germany.' " Even the French considered Apollo 11 "the greatest adventure in the history of humanity." France-Soir's twenty-two-page supplement sold 1.5 million copies. A French journalist marveled that interest in the Moon landing was running so high "in a country whose people are so tired of politics and world affairs that they are accused of caring only about vacations and sex."

Moscow Radio led its broadcast with news of the launch. Pravda rated the scene at Cape Kennedy front-page news, captioning a picture of the Apollo 11 crew "these three courageous men."

Not all the press was favorable. Out of Hong Kong, three Communist newspapers attacked the mission as a cover-up for the American failure to win the Vietnam War and charged that the Moon landing was an effort to "extend imperialism into space."

Others charged that the materialism of the American space program would forever ruin the wonder and beautiful ethereal qualities of the mysterious Moon, enveloped from time immemorial in legend. After human explorers violated the Moon with footprints and digging tools, who again could ever find romance in poet John Keats's question, "What is there in thee, moon, that thou shouldst move my heart so potently?"

Partaking of the technological miracle of the first telecommunications satellites launched earlier in the decade, at the U.S. embassy in Seoul, 50,000 South Koreans gathered before a wall-sized television screen. A crowd of Poles filled the auditorium at the American embassy in Warsaw. Trouble with AT&T's Intelsat III satellite over the Atlantic prevented a live telecast in Brazil (as it did in many parts of South America, Central America, and the Caribbean region), but Brazilians listened to accounts on radio and bought out special newspaper editions. Because of the Intelsat problem, a makeshift, round-the-world, west-to-east transmission caused a two-second lag in live coverage worldwide.

Shortly before liftoff, CBS News commentator Eric Sevareid, who at age sixty-six was seeing his first manned shot, described the scene to Walter Cronkite's television audience: " we sit here today...I think the [English] language is being altered.... How do you say 'high as the sky' anymore, or 'the sky is the limit' -- what does that mean?"

Nowhere on the globe was the excitement as palpable as it was throughout the United States. In east Tennessee, tobacco farmers picking small pink flowers from tobacco plants crowded around a pocket-size transistor in order to share the big moment. In the harbor at Biloxi, Mississippi, shrimpers waited on the wharf for word that Apollo 11 had lifted off. At the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, where 7:30 a.m. classes were postponed, fifty cadets hovered around one small TV set. "Everybody held his breath," a twenty-year-old senior cadet from Missouri said. "Then, as the spaceship lifted off the ground, we began to cheer and clap and yell and scream." In the twenty-four-hour casino at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, the blackjack and roulette tables sat empty while gamblers stood spellbound in front of six television sets.

The multitude of eyewitnesses assembled on and around the Cape, Merritt Island, Titusville, Indian River, Cocoa Beach, Satellite Beach, Melbourne, throughout Brevard and Osceola counties, as far away as Daytona Beach and Orlando, prepared to behold one of the most awesome sights known to man, second only perhaps to the detonation of an atomic bomb.

William Nelson, an engineering planner from Durham, Connecticut, sat with his family of seven and, gazing at the Apollo rocket looming eleven miles away, said excitedly, "They tell me I'll be able to feel the earth shake when it goes off. Once I see it, I'll know that it was worth all the heat and mosquitoes. All I know is that my kids will be able to say they were here." The voice of Jacksonville, Florida's Mrs. John Yow, wife of a stockbroker, quivered as she uttered, "I'm shaky, I'm tearful. It's the beginning of a new era in the life of man." Charles Walker, a student from Armstrong's own Purdue University, told a newsman from his campsite on a small inlet in Titusville, "It's like mankind has developed fire all over again. Perhaps this will be the kindling light to put men together now." In the VIP stands nearest the launch complex, R. Sargent Shriver, the U.S. ambassador to France who was married to Eunice Kennedy, a sister of the deceased president John Kennedy, who had committed the country to landing on the Moon, declared, "How beautiful it is! The red of the flames, the blue of the sky, the white fumes -- those colors! Think of the guys in there getting that incredible ride. Incroyable!"

CBS's sixty-one-year-old commentator Heywood Hale Broun, best known for his irreverent sports journalism, experienced the liftoff with several thousand people along Cocoa Beach, some fifteen miles south of the launchpad. He told Cronkite's audience of tens of millions, "At a tennis match you look back and forth. On a rocket launch you just keep going up and up, your eyes going up, your hopes going up, and finally the whole crowd like some vast many-eyed crab was staring out and up and up and all very silent. There was a small 'Aah' when the rocket first went up, but after that it was just staring and reaching. It was the poetry of hope, if you will, unspoken but seen in the kind of concentrated gestures that people had as they reached up and up with the rocket."

Even those who came to the launch to protest could not help but be deeply moved. Reverend Ralph Abernathy, successor to the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and de facto leader of the American civil rights movement, marched with four mules and about 150 members of the Poor People's Campaign for Hunger as close as they were allowed to get to the sprawling spaceport. "We are protesting America's inability to choose the proper priorities," said Hosea Williams, the SCLC's director of political education, who claimed money spent to get to the Moon could have wiped out hunger for 31 million poor people. Nonetheless, Williams stood "in admiration of the astronauts," just as Reverend Abernathy himself "succumbed to the awe-inspiring launch," declaring, "I was one of the proudest Americans as I stood on this soil. I think it's really holy ground."

"There's so much that we have yet to do -- the hunger in the world, the sickness in the world, the poverty in the world," former president Lyndon B. Johnson told Walter Cronkite shortly after watching the launch from his bleacher seat, wife Lady Bird at his side. "We must apply some of the great talents that we've applied to space to all these problems, and get them done, and get them done in the spirit of what's the greatest good for the greatest number."

With ten minutes left on the clock, the thoughtful Eric Sevareid said on-air to Cronkite, "There's not a carnival atmosphere here, really. You've got the snack shops and all the rest, all the trailers, but there is a quiet atmosphere, and when the van carrying the astronauts themselves went by on this roadway just now, there was a kind of hush among the people. Those things move very slowly as though they're carrying nitroglycerine or something. You get a feeling that people think of these men as not just superior men but different creatures. They are like people who have gone into the other world and have returned, and you sense they bear secrets that we will never entirely know, and that they will never entirely be able to explain."

In central Ohio, a thousand miles from the viewing stands in Florida, the little burg of Wapakoneta, Armstrong's hometown, counted down. Streets were virtually empty, with nearly 6,700 residents glued to their television sets. Downtown stores, displaying framed pictures of Neil and red, white, and blue pennants proclaiming the town's piece in "the biggest event of the century," delayed their opening until after liftoff.

The quiet, even quasi-religious anticipation followed weeks of commercial and patriotic uproar in the town. At the center of the chaos was 912 Neil Armstrong Drive, the one-story, ranch-style home of Viola and Steve Armstrong, into which the couple had moved just a year earlier. Neil's parents had attended the Gemini VIII launch in 1966. Their son had also arranged for them to witness Apollo 10's liftoff in April. But for this flight, he advised them to stay at home, saying "the pressure might be too great" for them at the Cape. The night before the launch, however, a reporter counted a total of 233 cars circling their suburban block.

Six months earlier, Viola Armstrong had been sitting at her kitchen table placing pictures -- most of them of Neil -- in photo albums when she heard the news on TV that Neil was to be the commander for Apollo 11: "A flood of tears gushed from my eyes. There was tumult within me. I sobbed in anguish. Soon I was on my knees in prayer." Over the years since she had given her life to Jesus Christ as a young teenager, she had uttered many fervent prayers, "but never was there a prayer like this one. I had actually heard the announcement with my own ears that our son had been chosen to be on the coming Moon landing team!"

In the months leading up to the launch, Neil's mother and father were "besieged by newsmen of every category," from England, Norway, France, Germany, and Japan. Viola recalled, "Their prying questions ('What was Neil like when he was a little boy?' 'What kind of a home life did he have?' 'Where will you be and what will you be doing during the launch?' etc. etc.) were a constant drain on my strength and nervous system. I survived this only by the grace of God. He must have been at my side constantly."

NASA sent a special protocol officer to Wapakoneta from Huntsville, Alabama. "Tom Andrews was blessed with the most beautiful head of red wavy hair that anyone ever saw," Viola remembered. "Plus he was common like us, so we felt very much at ease with each other. He said, 'Now, Mrs. Armstrong, I'll answer your doorbell, answer your phone, and help you folks in any way that I can.' My! He was welcomed with open arms."

To facilitate their coverage of Apollo 11 from Wapakoneta, the three major TV networks erected a shared eighty-five-foot-high transmission tower in the driveway of the Armstrong house. The Armstrong garage was turned into a pressroom with messy rows of telephones temporarily installed atop folding picnic tables.

Because Neil's parents still had only a black-and-white television, the TV networks gave them a large color set on which to watch the mission. On a daily basis, a local restaurant sent down a half dozen pies. A fruit company from nearby Lima delivered a large stock of bananas. A dairy from Delphos sent ice cream. Frito-Lay sent large cartons of corn chips. A local dairy, the Fisher Cheese Co., Wapakoneta's largest employer, proffered its special "Moon Cheeze." Consolidated Bottling Company delivered crates of "Capped Moon Sauce," a "secret-formula" vanilla cream soda pop. Neighbors and friends contributed delicious foods of the midwest summertime.

The proud mayor of Wapakoneta requested that every home and business display an American flag (and preferably also the Ohio state flag) from the morning of the launch until the moment "the boys" were safely back. Among a few locals, the media spotlight inspired a different kind of civic embellishment. Some told exaggerated stories, even outright lies, about their special connection to the astronaut. Even kids took to spinning yarns: "Listen, my dad is Neil Armstrong's barber!" or "My mom was the first girl ever to kiss Neil!" or "Hey, I chopped down Neil Armstrong's cherry tree!"

Since the Armstrongs' Auglaize County phone number was public knowledge, Tom Andrews arranged to have two private phone lines run into the family's utility room, off the kitchen. Around noontime the day before the launch, Neil called his mother and father from the Cape. "We enjoyed a very pleasant conversation," recalled Viola. "His voice was cheerful, and he said he thought they were all ready for the takeoff the next morning. Daddy said, 'Will you call us again before you leave?' and he said, 'No, I'm afraid I won't be able to call again.' These words were spoken very softly. We asked God to watch over him, and then we had to say 'good-bye.'"

Neil's sister and brother attended the launch. June, her husband, Dr. Jack Hoffman, and their four daughters flew to Florida from their home in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin. Dean Armstrong, his wife, Marilyn, and their two daughters drove down to Florida from their home in Anderson, Indiana. Both children called their mother and father the day prior to the launch. June said, "Momma, if you feel someone squeezing your hand these days, you'll know it is me." Viola replied, "Oh, thank you, darling. You know I already have one hand in the Lord's hand, and now I have yours in the other. Now I'm sure I can go ahead."

Late that night Neil's wife Janet telephoned Viola to report that she and the boys had not been able to see Neil, but they had talked with him briefly by telephone and had wished him a successful flight. A government car had driven them to see the gigantic rocket spectacularly alit with the spacecraft atop it. Janet told Viola that at dawn they would be heading out onto the Banana River in the corporate yacht. "Janet, too, was full of cheerfulness," Viola remembered. "She felt the crew was ready."

Viola's recall of that extraordinary morning remained sharp until her dying day: "Streets about our house were blocked off. Old Glory was flying everywhere. The weather was quite hot, and the skies were clear and beautiful. Stinebaugh Construction had installed two window air conditioners for our comfort. Tom Andrews guarded our doors and our very selves. Lawmen were at watch outside. Our local WERM radio station had its truck out in front, too. TV and radio personnel were busy setting up their equipment.

"Visitors, neighbors, and strangers gathered around to watch and listen, including my mother, Caroline; my cousin, Rose; and my pastor, Reverend Weber. Stephen and I sat side by side, wearing for good luck the Gemini VIII pins that Neil had given us. For so long I had been talking with my Lord, and for so long He had been giving me strength. It seemed as though there was something around me holding me up. These were tense moments, yet the watchful eye of the Life people was constantly upon us, snapping pictures, especially, I thought, when we were looking our worst. Reverend Weber with his prayers at intervals was most comforting. We all had explicit faith in NASA and our boys, and I had a feeling that our Heavenly

Father was the Supreme Commander over all.... When the final countdown began, I felt someone gentle and firm supporting me right through the liftoff. There was our Neil with Buzz and Mike off on a journey to the Moon!

"It seemed as if from the very moment he was born -- farther back still, from the time my husband's family and my own ancestry originated back in Europe long centuries ago -- that our son was somehow destined for this mission."

Copyright 2005 by James R. Hansen


Excerpted from First Man by James R. Hansen Copyright © 2005 by James R. Hansen.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Prologue: The Launch

Part One: An American Genesis

Chapter 1 The Strong of Arm

Chapter 2 The Strong of Spirit

Part Two: Tranquility Base

Chapter 3 First Child

Chapter 4 The Virtues of Smallville6

Chapter 5 Truth in the Air

Chapter 6 Aeronautical Engineering 101

Part Three: Wings of Gold

Chapter 7 Class 5-49

Chapter 8 Fighter Squadron 51

Chapter 9 Fate Is the Hunter

Chapter 10 The Ordeal of Eagles

Part Four: The Real Right Stuff

Chapter 11 The Research Pilot

Chapter 12 Above the High Desert

Chapter 13 At the Edge of Space

Chapter 14 The Worst Loss

Chapter 15 Higher Resolve

Chapter 16 I've Got a Secret

Part Five: No Man Is an Island

Chapter 17 Training Days

Chapter 18 In Line for Command

Chapter 19 Gemini VIII

Chapter 20 The Astronaut's Wife

Chapter 21 For All America

Part Six: Apollo

Chapter 22 Out of the Ashes

Chapter 23 Wingless on Luna

Chapter 24 Amiable Strangers

Chapter 25 First Out

Chapter 26 Dialectics of a Moon Mission

Part Seven: One Giant Leap

Chapter 27 Outward Bound

Chapter 28 The Landing

Chapter 29 One Small Step

Chapter 30 Return to Earth

Chapter 31 For All Mankind

Part Eight: Dark Side of the Moon

Chapter 32 Standing Ground

Chapter 33 To Engineer Is Human

Chapter 34 The Astronaut as Icon

Chapter 35 Into the Heartland





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First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
ChrisinCincy More than 1 year ago
I read the review above mine and can't help but wonder what Mr. Armstrong owes to anyone. Is he private.....absolutely. Does he have the right to be.....absolutely. He's not an actor or musician looking for a certain amount of fame and notoriety. I believe he entered the space program for reasons much deeper than that. Perhaps as a duty to his country, he is after all a military man. Maybe he chose to join as the next logical step in being part of the newest technology man created, flying the X15 became mundane. If you watched the Ed Bradley interview he stated he did not deserve all of the attention. Over 400,000 people participated in the Apollo program and every single one of them was crucial to its success. That says a great deal about his character. He was one of many men who could have been the first to walk on the moon, but his number came up at the right time and he did the job he was expected to do. Does he deserve the attention the world wants to bestow on him, I believe so. Does it make him less noble if he chooses not to accept it, certainly not. He can be looked up to by our young people, such as me, for more than just being the first man to walk on the moon. How about integrity, and honor. There is something to be said for modesty, and humilty which seems to have been forgotten in our culture. I'm sick of people shouting "look at me, look what I can do", expecting all the attention they can possibly get for the most minor of accomplishments.
Guest More than 1 year ago
'That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.' With those words and that step, a man named Neil Armstrong passed into history, to become one with Columbus and Leif Erikson as the first man to set foot on a new world. But while many people know his name, very few know the man. Since Apollo 11, Armstrong has lived as a virtual recluse, shunning publicity and fame. James Hanson has helped to retify this ignorance. We now know something of Armstrong's life, from his early days as an aviator in the Korean War, to his life now as an explorer in winter. The biography Hanson has written, with full cooperation of Armstrong and his family and friends, is not a hero worshiping white wash. But it is warts and all, it is not, unlike certain biographies of other great men, warts only. It is the portrait of a remarkable life and a remarkable man, whose skills as a pilot and engineer, combined with the luck of history, placed him one magic, summer evening on the surface of the Sea of Tranquility. The book is highly recommended.
Huston More than 1 year ago
The only real biography of Neil Armstrong that can be believed. All the others are secondary sourcing and full of authors placing their own biased interpretations of Armstrong and NASA.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a fantastic book to read. No doubt a historical event was Neil the first man to step on the moon. You learn alot about stuff that happened in his life like the death of his 3 or 4 year old daughter Karen, his house lost in a fire, the decision on who will be the first to step on to the moon surface and why, His divorce from his first wife, the death of his parents and to finally him having a heart attack. He is still alive and it will tell you the other things he has done after his trip to the moon. Absulutly a great read.
jusi on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What a fascinating read. If you remember watching those grainy black & white TV pictures in 1969 and can still feel the excitement, read this - it will bring it all back. And it convincingly debunks and refutes the ridiculous notion that the heroic adventure never took place.
John-Sopkins on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Has some juicy space gossip. Armstrong dishes the dirt on why Chuck Yeager crashed his jet in the film The Right Stuff...apparently Yeager didn't use simulators and knew not how to orient his jet in the thin atmosphere. The book does look into every nook and cranny of Armstrong's personal history, including lots of boring stuff.
ALincolnNut on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an authorized biography of Neil Armstrong, which means that Armstrong actively participated in the preparation of this book, making himself available for interviews and allowing others close to him to share their insights as well. As such, there is a lot of wealth in the details of this book, drawn from a wealth of interviews and primary documents. In fact, the author consistently points out when opinions in the book are drawn from various personal interviews.As one might imagine, however, this honesty can lead to a rather clumsy narrative. And the narrative of this biography, unfortunately, is at times clumsy. Hansen may be a first rate researcher (it appears so) and he may have a depth of knowledge of the history of the space program (he is, after all, a full history professor at Auburn University). But he is not a first-rate writer or biographer. Time and again he overexamines certain things (like Armstrong's military career); time and again the narrative of this exciting story stumbles along, tripping over itself.Armstrong is often compared to Charles Lindbergh, and as I read this book, I found it impossible to not compare it with A. Scott Berg's excellent Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Lindbergh. Hansen's biography pales to Berg's in any comparison, from the incorporation of the key flight (Berg manages to keep the transatlantic flight to a manageable and appropriate portion of his book; in First Man Apollo 11 is about a quarter of the book). Berg delves into the effects of Lindbergh's flight on the rest of his life; Hansen skips through Armstrong's subsequent life (all 35 years of it) in less than 100 pages, or in roughly the same amount of space he describes the lunar voyage/landing component of Apollo 13.Still, it is unlikely that this biography will be exceeded during Armstrong's lifetime, and it may take some years after his death before a full-scale attempt is made again to tell this story. So it is an important book and a necessary resource in the field of space history.
Shrike58 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As the authorized biography of Neil Armstrong, this book has the usual faults and virtues of such an exercise. On one hand, due to access to private materials, significant myths are debunked about the subject. On the other, one can sometimes wonder how forthright the author is about what he is thinking about his subject. In between tracking the choices that led to Armstrong becoming the first man to step onto the Moon, and the technology that was involved, the point that crystallized the book for me came late, when Armstrong admitted that while his flying was not very intuitive, he made up for this with more precision. This admission could describe much of the rest of Armstrong¿s life, as he seemed to function best in structured environments where problems could be dealt with in isolation. Unfortunately, this was not an approach that served Armstrong well either in his first marriage, where he seems to have given too little back in terms of emotional support and time, or in post-astronaut life in general, where the man¿s iconic status (and generally closed personality) seemed to lead to, at best, general awkwardness.This also offers some insight into the resentment that the community of military test pilots seemed to have for the man (a running topic in this book), in that Armstrong¿s desire to keep his own counsel and avoid personal conflict could be seen as arrogance and his flying style might be seen as awkward by men who were more intuitive fliers. This, of course, discounts the Darwinian drive for prestige and advancement between the American military and civilian aerospace efforts, which the civilian side was probably always going to win, with Armstrong probably being the leading civilian test pilot in the NACA/NASA complex (not to mention being a good organization man). Hansen, being a NASA man himself, might not best placed to comment on this issue. I might be unfair in this instance, as Hansen does seem to deal forthrightly with how the crew of Apollo 11 was anything but a band of brothers (which was seen as unusual at the time); possibly a comment on Armstrong's leadership skills.
OklahomaRuss More than 1 year ago
Poorly written in various places.  Too much detail and recitation of "facts" in parts of the book.  It does not keep your interest in several  stretches of reading.  I have a keen interest in the early US space program and have read many of the books and biographies of the  astronauts and this is book is below par by comparison.  The life of such a remarkable man deserved better writing.  Having said that, the book was worth the read if you are interested in the life of Neil Armstrong. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is certainly a lifetime of information about Neil Armstrong, and it might take a lifetime to read. Perhaps a few facts could have been left out to allow the book to be a more manageable length. I'm only 10% through the book, and it's starting to lose my interest when I look at the 941 pages.
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I find it hard to believe that we ever made it to the moon simply because we have never went back and no other country has ever been since! It was a lie perpetrated by our government leaders to claim fame to be the first to reach the moon and yet why have we in this day and age never returned? Only to fly around earth and go to the space stations, the moon walk video is sooo fake!
Guest More than 1 year ago
As one who recalls watching the event on our old b&w tv (age 17 at the time), I had great expectations of the book, which for the most part didn't displease. But the author seemed too quick to 'protect' or defend Armstrong on just about everything, and seemed to go out of his way including minutia, ad infinitum. What one walks away with is how this man, incredibly bright as he is, also relegates others' feelings and concerns to irrelevance. Almost to a person, his fellow astronauts and the experts with whom he worked described him as aloof and almost clinical in everything he did. Nothing ever seemed good enough for him, especially his own actions. By and large, he was the ultimate geek, even to the point of neglecting to take small tokens to the moon with him for his two sons - geesh! The years since that great event have seen the intentional disappearance of Armstrong from public view, something I personally think he had not the luxury to do. While serendipity as much as his expertise placed him first on the moon, the Apollo program belongs to all of America. He has a moral obligation to make himself much more available for all of the millions we spent on his training and having him in the position he occupies forever in history. We are all cheated by his continued privacy, which seems proto-typical for Armstrong. Hopefully younger readers will embrace his book since the man himself, if history is any indication, will refuse to contribute. In this age of tin-plated patriots and false heroes, we need the real thing. How many young lives could he change merely by making tours around the country to high school science classes! What a waste!.