Neil Armstrong

Pencil Portrait by Antonio Bosano.

Neil Armstrong Pencil Portrait
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Last update: 5/5/15

It took this man roughly thirty years to achieve the level of anonymity he craved. He remarried in 1994 and his second wife went on record at the time saying that “I’m sure the attention is so much less than it was thirty years ago. We have noticed most of that when we travel out of the country. But he’s not recognised that much anymore.”

Armstrong may be a hero to millions but he was always, first and foremost, a team player and as such felt undeserving of all the media attention that came his way after the success of the Apollo 11 mission. In his quest to uncover the man behind the spacesuit, Andrew Smith, author of “Moondust: In Search of the Men Who Fell to Earth,” travelled extensively across America in 2009 in search of Armstrong but ultimately came to the conclusion that the former astronaut believed simply that he did not deserve the attention. Smith’s search for Armstrong was the subject of a specially commissioned programme for BBC 4 which I watched with interest and interviewed about the programme at the time of its inaugural broadcast he said, “there were 400,000 people that worked on that [Moon landing] programme in various different ways and he thinks he didn’t deserve all the credit just because he did the flying part.”

He was not a reclusive man. In the first decade of the millennium he was travelling the world, giving speeches, attending events, visiting children and grandchildren, reading books, writing essays and playing golf. He regularly attended meetings of the American Philosophical Society, participated in annual sessions of the Academy of the Kingdom of Morocco, maintained his pilot’s licence and sanctioned his authorised biography. Quite a busy lifestyle but not habitually reported in the press. When Madonna jogs in Hyde Park with twenty tracksuited minders in tow she is not seeking “Armstrong anonymity” whatever her protestations to the contrary.

In spite of his self effacing manner, he was an extraordinary pilot. He flew the X-15, the fastest plane in the world, at 4,000mph (6,440km/h). He could fly anything and is possibly the most distinguished pilot that has ever lived. His generation were enchanted by flying, they were aviation pioneers. The Second World War pilots were their heroes. Armstrong never wanted to be a celebrity, he wanted to push the boundaries of flight.”

He passed away in August 2012 at the age of 82, after complications arising from a recent cardiac bypass.

Recommended viewing

Neil Armstrong – First man on the moon (2005)

On of the last interviews he would grant, and a reminder for all time of two fundamental aspects to his personality – modesty and naivety. “Circumstance put me in that particular role – that wasn’t planned by anyone,” he says after admitting he doesn’t believe he deserves the attention he’s had.

Recommended reading

First man – The life of Neil A. Armstrong (James R. Hansen) 2005

I cannot possibly add a single authoritative fact about this enigmatic man that hasn’t already been published yet this authorised biography is one of many that I have read and as such there is always something pertinent to extract from the available text about human nature.

Regrettably, there are no colour photographs of Armstrong walking on the moon. Buzz Aldrin did not snap a single one. You have to understand human nature to some degree to even investigate a statement like this more deeply. James Hansen covers this topic on pages 507 – 512. Read the book – the purpose of my commentaries is not to rehash verbatim transcripts of existing material. However, my eternal interest in the true motivation for a person’s actions can best be illustrated by the concept of peeling back layers of an onion. Each layer is plausible and assists us in determining the myriad of factors and circumstances that give rise to any particular outcome but it is that final layer, the essential core of the vegetable in question that gives us the truest unvarnished insight to a person’s character.

Apollo 12 astronaut Al Bean, interviewed for this book is quoted as saying “Obviously one possibility is that Buzz just wasn’t thinking about taking a picture of Neil, and he wasn’t realising that he wasn’t thinking about it.” For sure I can go along with that but then Bean adds, “but there is also the possibility that he WAS thinking about it and that is why there aren’t any pictures of Neil.” Well I can certainly go along with that too. Finally, Al suggests that Aldrin may have been thinking “Neil may be the first on the moon, but I’m not taking any pictures of him.”

So what really happened? I don’t know is the short answer, but we can hypothesise that being the second man on the moon just doesn’t have a suitable “ring” to it. We can take a team player perspective on matters and we can spend months in training convincing ourselves that it’s trivia and inconsequential but then we get to the moon and the sense of occasion overwhelms us. What would happen to our professional standing in the eyes of the world to begin an argument over who would descend the ladder first? In addition, Armstrong’s personality, by that time well known to other crew members, was one of focussed professionalism, a cool calm exterior, a person behaviourally unsuited to acts of self aggrandisement. Perhaps Aldrin second guessed his “running mate’s” lack of arrogance and therefore allowed his feelings of injustice to overwhelm him whilst he waited to join his colleague on the lunar surface. Neil himself succinctly explained his attitude to the mission when he said that the term “First Man” was wrong – that he and Aldrin both landed on the moon at the same time. However, as Apollo 17 astronaut Gene Cernan was quick to say “Myself, if I had been in Neil’s place, I would have said, “Buzz, take a picture of me – quick.”


Neil Armstrong-Patrick Moore interview (BBC Tv) 1970

Armstrong’s comments to the BBC have fuelled the conspiracy theorists for decades. Did they really go the moon? Was there really a camera mounted on the leg of the lunar module when Neil descended those steps? – for disbelievers check out “Capricorn One” at your local DVD rental store.

Neil Armstrong-Alex Malley interview (2011)

Armstrong, noticeably reticent in giving interviews, spoke with Alex Malley for Australian TV the year before his death.