by Richy Craven
As you might have guessed from our love letter to the Mars Curiosity Rover we love the idea of space travel here at Man Cave Daily and we have one man to thank for that: George Luca…no we’re kidding! It was totally Neil Armstrong.
Armstrong is the reason that every kid wants to be an astronaut when they grow up and for 82 glorious years he was here as a physical reminder to everyone that saying “The sky is the limit!” is only for unimaginative drones. No, sky, you are not the limit; you are the starting point!
Sadly, Neil Armstrong passed away last month but in his lifetime he achieved more badassery than any 12 other men you’d care to name. Here are some of the highlights.
Every great man needs a nemesis: a Lex Luthor, if you will. Armstrong realized at an early age that no mere mortal would ever be able to truly challenge him and so chose to spend his life fighting against the very concept of gravity itself.
Armstrong began taking flying lessons at 14, an age when most of us wouldn’t have been trusted with a particularly sharp stick let alone an aircraft, and he got his pilot’s license at the age of 16. In a move that forever cemented his priorities in life Neil got his pilot’s license before he got his driver’s license. We see where he was coming from; cars are cool and all but it’s pretty hard to do barrel rolls and loopedy loops in them.
Neil was called up to serve in the Navy during the Korean war and if you think he spent his military service behind a desk or engaging in Sgt. Bilko-esque shenanigans then you haven’t been paying very much attention so far.
No, Armstrong was a navy pilot who specialized in armed reconnaissance missions. For those of you that don’t know armed reconnaissance is it’s where you take a plane loaded with enough weaponry to relocate Canada and fly in the general direction of enemy territory until you find something worth exploding. They’re basically missions where there is no real specific target in mind and “armed reconnaissance” sounds better than “Michael Bay-ing.” Armstrong flew 78 of these missions.
While on one of these flights Armstrong’s plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire (which is like the worst thing to be shot with when you’re sitting in an aircraft) and in the confusion also managed to crash into a flagpole tearing about 3 feet off one of his wings.
Now, we’re not experts in aerial engineering but we’re pretty sure that flying is a fairly wing-centric activity. Despite this setback he managed to keep it in the air long enough to make it back to friendly territory before ejecting and waited calmly for the rest of the war to catch up to him.
Armstrong would resign from the Navy in 1952, presumably citing “not dangerously challenging enough” as his main reason for leaving.
After his tour of Korea was up Neil returned to college in order to complete his college degree and get married. Unfortunately living a normal life fell under “time not doing crazy $#!+ in planes,” his least favorite way to spend time. This is why he signed up to become a test pilot at Edwards Air Force Base; where he’d spend the next several years pushing experimental planes to their limits.
Now test pilots are perhaps even more ballsy than fighter pilots. What the job lacks in people trying to shoot you down it more than makes up for with the fact that your experimental, prototype plane could stop working at any moment. Test pilots are the ones who see how fast a plane is capable of flying before the engine disintegrates or how it can go before the wings snap off. The job is description is essentially one part pilot to three parts crash-test dummy.
As you can imagine this sort of work leaves you with all sorts of fun stories. In 1962 Armstrong was testing the self-adjusting control system in an X-15. After reaching a height of over 200,000 feet he began to descend but accidentally held the nose of the plane too high, causing the entire aircraft to bounce off the atmosphere (did you know you could bounce off the atmosphere? Us neither), shooting him back up to 140,000 feet. All this aerial trampolining resulted in his passing the landing site at mach 3 (which we’re informed is too fast to land) and at a height of about 100,000 feet (which we’re informed is too high to land). He eventually ended up 40 miles away from his landing site and managed to limp his plane back to base before it fell apart completely. If we had to guess we’d say this when they came up with the idea of a spacesuit that you could go to the bathroom in.
While bouncing off the sky is the sort of thing that would make most men sit back and take stock of their life for a few weeks Neil actually had his next near-death experience only 4 days later. This time in the company of flying-legend Chuck Yaeger (who deserves a whole article to himself). The official records state that their plane crashed when its landing gear got stuck in the mud as they attempted to land in a dry lake bed but we suspect that the plane just wasn’t able to cope with the sheer testicular mass of the two extraordinary men.
During his time as a test pilot Armstrong flew to heights over 200,000 feet and at speeds in excess of Mach 5 and yet that wasn’t nearly high or fast enough for the man.
Armstrong’s first voyage into space was aboard Gemini 8. The mission was to be N.A.S.A’s most difficult yet as the crew was to dock with another, unmanned shuttle for the first time. This might not be Neil’s most impressive space first but bear in mind that doing anything in space for the first time is an exercise in trial, error and pants-soiling terror.
The Gemini docked successfully with its target shuttle but soon after the two craft began to roll uncontrollably, something that was definitely not supposed to happen. The crew weren’t able to counteract the spin and were forced to un-dock from the other shuttle.
Unfortunately undocking only made the craft spin faster, to the point where Gemini was doing one rotation every second. Stuck in the world’s most terrifying Tilt-A-Whirl Armstrong had no choice but to initiate early re-entry. The craft landed safely but the crew had been unable to do many of the tests that had been planned for the mission.
Some of the NASA crew criticized Armstrong’s choice to re-enter early, stating that there were measures that they could have taken in order to salvage the mission. However most people believe that those who weren’t in the whirling, explody death-trap thousands of miles from home don’t get a say in what should have happened and NASA’s technical report of the mission supported Armstrong’s decision regardless.
Everyone knows that Armstrong was the first man on the moon. What many don’t know was that there was a point during the mission when it looked more like he was going to be the first man to be splattered across the surface of the moon in a fiery explosion instead.
After detaching from the main shuttle the Eagle lunar lander approached the surface of the moon. Armstrong noticed that they were passing over the surface too quickly and would miss their intended landing site by several miles.
While the moon may look flat and empty from down here in reality it’s covered in boulders, pits and ridges of the shuttle destroying variety. To make matters a lot worse the computer that was supposed to be guiding them to a safe place suddenly started spewing alarms and error warnings.
In the worst instance of blue-screening in history the on-board computer had too many tasks to complete at once and decided to drop some in favor of those it deemed a higher priority. Those lower priority tasks included “not crashing into the moon” so Armstrong was forced to switch to manual control and guide the shuttle to a safe landing.
Not only was Armstrong the first man on the moon but he did so without help from the on-board computer. In comparison, most of us probably couldn’t make it to the nearest Taco Bell without Siri’s help.
When he finally got out onto the moon’s surface, he said the now-famous lines “That’s one small step for man. One giant leap for mankind” and immediately the pedantic ancestors of modern day internet commenters criticized him because technically he should have said “a man” as “man” is synonymous with “mankind.” In fairness to Neil, he’s always had the perfect response to these criticisms: “Sorry I didn’t have time for perfect grammar. I was on the MOON, you pedants!” Oh, and he likely did say it correctly.
After they had finished being the single coolest members of the human race, he and Aldrin got back into the shuttle to discover that they’d managed to break off the ignition switch for the craft. In the first instance of lunar MacGyvering the astronauts managed to turn on the circuit using a pen…which technically means Armstrong was also the first man to hotwire a vehicle on the Moon.
Post-Astronaut Career and Death
Neil’s post-astronaut career led to him becoming amongst other things a teacher at the University of Cincinnati, a NASA administrator and an investigator for the Challenger disaster. He stayed out of the spotlight for the most part despite being one of the most remarkable human beings ever to walk (and later leave) the earth.
Neil Armstrong witnessed the birth and, later, death of American manned space flight, which must have been like seeing humankind’s greatest step forward followed by its most inexplicable leap backward.
To say that he will be missed is the understatement of the millennium but we can only hope that his death has left us all with one single question: “Why the hell aren’t we sending people in to space any more? That was awesome!”
Richy further hailed our space efforts with The Mars Curiosity Rover Deserves More Attention than the Olympics. And be sure to read Three Amazing Neil Armstrong Landings That Weren’t the Moon.