In the course of human history only 12 men have ever set foot on another celestial body. Of those twelve, two once walked the campus of Purdue University. They are a major reason that Purdue bills itself as the Mother of Astronauts. Until today, Gene Cernan; who was the last man to walk on the moon, and Neil Armstrong were possibly the two most famous living Purdue alumni. Now Gene is alone.
I was getting a workout in when it came over the TV that Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon and the most beloved Purdue alum of all-time, had died at age 82. The man inspired generations of men and women to follow in his footsteps and work in aerospace engineering. It is because of him that Purdue is one of the finest engineering institutions in the world. His name is on the freaking building, and his rendition of SHOUT before the fourth quarter of Homecoming 2007 is the best one yet.
Unfortunately, as we all get older we lose the institutions we respect. Since I started this blog we've now lost two of the most looked up to alums in school history: Neil and John Wooden. Neil did more to advance the name and brand of Purdue University than any other person. He may be more well known than John Purdue himself.
To close, I leave you with the text of the first ever Profile In Badassery at this site. Godspeed, Neil, and thank you.
Some of my fellow bloggers have excellent Friday series. Maize N' Brew has had their Friday Drinking Instructions lately. As usual, EDSBS is the Gold Standard with the Digital Viking: A Guide to Spicy Living. I have been wanting to do a semi-regular Friday series along similar lines, but the idea for the debut finally came to me this morning in the shower. Therefore, I give you Profiles in Heroism. This new series will try to feature Purdue alums or students at first, but I am always open to branching out for other good people worthy of a focus. In meeting that criteria, I must begin with the MAN himself: Neil Alden Armstrong.
Korean War Veteran
I would say that is a pretty good resume right there. He doesn't even need other achievements like being a hero to a small African Nation or being an outlaw in Peru. Of the billions of people who are currently alive or have ever lived he is one of a very small fraternity that has the unique distinction of walking on the moon. I believe I can sum it up best with this clip from Brian Regan (sorry, some fool disabled embedding).
Neil didn't just wake up on Apollo 11 one morning, either. Born August 5th, 1930, the soon to be 80-year old was accomplishing great things since he was a kid in Wapakoneta, Ohio. He became an Eagle Scout as a teenager, joining a fraternity that includes yours truly. He then decided to attend Purdue University and study aerospace engineering.
Time at Purdue
In 2010 Purdue is known as the mother of astronauts. We are world renowed for aerospace and astronautical engineering. In 1947, just two years short of World War II, the general attitude towards being shot into space was, "Are you freaking crazy!!!!" We were still 10 years away from the first satellite. Jet engines were that new fangled contraption that was trying to replace propeller driven planes (then just a scant 44 years old). He was only the second person in his family to go to college, and turned down MIT for Purdue (suck it, Nerds!).
Neil's home at Purdue?
I remember living in Cary Quad as a freshman and hearing the consistent rumors that Neil himself once lived there. I don't know if those can be confirmed, but it took Neil 8 years to graduate because of some pesky Korean War that got in the way. He was called up to the Navy in January of 1949 and further proved his manliness becoming a Navy aviator able to land on aircraft carriers.
Navy Years (a.k.a. trying to fly while getting shot at)
As if trying to land a plane on a moving football field wasn't enough of a challenge, he flew recon escort missions during the Korean War. One of those missions resulted in this ball-shriveling tale on his Wikipedia page:
Armstrong first saw action in the Korean War on August 29, 1951, as an escort for a photo reconnaissance plane over Songjin. The principal targets for the flight were freight yards and a bridge on a narrow valley road south of the village of Majon-ni, west of Wonsan. Later, on September 3, 1951, while he making a low bombing run at about 350 mph (560 km/h), Armstrong's F9F Panther was hit by anti-aircraft fire. The plane took a nose dive, and sliced through a cable strung across the valley by the North Koreans at a height of about 500 ft (150 m). This sheared off an estimated six feet (2 m) of its right wing.
Armstrong was able to fly the plane back to friendly territory, but could not land the plane safely due to the loss of the aileron, which left ejection as his only option. He planned to eject over water and await rescue by navy helicopters, so he flew to an airfield near Pohang. Instead of a water rescue, winds forced his ejection seat back over land. Armstrong was picked up by a jeep driven by a roommate from flight school. It is unknown what happened to the wreckage of No. 125122 F9F-2.
"Who needs two wings to fly a plane?" This would make me want to never get in another airplane for the rest of my days. Instead, Armstrong flew 78 missions for a total of 121 hours in the air, all while people were shooting at him. I must also mention that he LANDED A FREAKING PLANE WITH ONE WING!!!!
He went back to Purdue and finished his degree in 1955. He met his first wife, who sadly passed away in 1962. Apparently bored with the challenges of flying in combat, he signed up to become a test pilot after graduation. Let me sum this up for you. He basically wanted to fly planes that had never been flown before and might explode/crash/simply break apart at very high speeds. Needless to say, Armstrong owns a set of brass ones. There, he had another fun adventure in testing a B-29:
As they ascended to 30,000 ft (9 km), the number four engine stopped and the propeller began windmilling in the airstream. Hitting the switch that would stop the propeller spinning, Butchart found the propeller slowed but then started spinning again, this time even faster than the other engines; if it spun too fast, it would fly apart. Their aircraft needed to hold an airspeed of 210 mph (338 km/h) to launch its Skyrocket payload, and the B-29 could not land with the Skyrocket still attached to its belly. Armstrong and Butchart nosed the aircraft down to pick up speed, then launched the Skyrocket. At the very instant of launch, the number four engine propeller disintegrated. Pieces of it careened through part of the number three engine and hit the number two engine. Butchart and Armstrong were forced to shut down the number three engine, due to damage, and the number one engine, due to the torque it created. They made a slow, circling descent from 30,000 ft (9,000 m) using only the number two engine, and landed safely.
Test pilot (becoming mass in a physics equation)
In 1957 he started flying rocket planes. That's right, rocket planes. Another device that man had never flown before. So they basically told Neil to try this out and hope he doesn't blow up or crash. As further proof of his manliness Armstrong made seven flights in the X-15. He reached a top altitude of 207,500 ft (63.2 km) in the X-15-3, and a top speed of Mach 5.74 (4,000 mph or 6,615 km/h) in the X-15-1, and he left the Dryden Flight Research Center with a total of 2,450 flying hours in more than 50 types of aircraft. Oh, and he also several near crashes and other brushes with death.
Astronaut career (the same as above, only with explosive decompression involved)
Again, he was bored with flying 4,000 miles per hour while 40 miles above the earth, so he decided to be an astronaut. At the time being an astronaut consisted of sitting in a small room on top of a cylinder of rocket fuel while someone lit a match. He was chosen as an astronaut in 1960 and made his first spaceflight aboard Gemini 8 in 1965. This mission pulled off the first ever docking in space, a critical element in any moon mission. Once again, he had a harrowing exercise where a thruster became stuck, causing a rotation that could only be solved by starting an emergency re-entry.Not a problem for a guy that can land planes with only one wing.
He later flew on Gemini 11. His more famous mission, of course, was being named commander of Apollo 11. This would lead to him becoming the first man to ever set foot on the moon, giving way to the Big Ten's campaign of him speaking for mankind and trumping anything that other Big Ten alumni were ever speaking for.
Suck it, Big Ten
It took balls of steel to do what no one had ever done, and Armstrong risked everything in the moon landing. There were problems with the automated landing system, so he did the thing manually. Apparently, anyone who uses an automated landing system to land on the moon is a nancy-boy. Ever the Boy Scout, they had trouble once on the lunar surface and nearly got stranded there.
After they re-entered the LM, the hatch was closed and sealed. While preparing for the liftoff from the lunar surface, Armstrong and Aldrin discovered that in their bulky spacesuits, they had broken the ignition switch for the ascent engine. The ascent engine had no switch to fire. Using part of a pen, they pushed the circuit breaker in to activate the launch sequence. Aldrin still possesses the pen which they used to do this. (Aldrin has it kept in a glass case for all to see). The lunar module then continued to its rendezvous and docked with Columbia, the command and service module, and returned to Earth.
Life after NASA
After you have walked on the moon what is there left to accomplish? For the past 40 years Armstrong has lived the dream of ticker tape parades, teaching, business, accident investigation, and generally living off of the fact that he had been a badass for the previous 20 years. In today's world he would be on cereal boxes and might even become a rap star. He earned a Master's degree from USC in 1970. He has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, The Congressional Space Medal of Honor, Congressional Gold Medal, Distinguished Eagle Scout Award, and had a building named after him at Purdue. Even without the rap career, he deserves all the hookers and Cristal he can get.
During the weekend that they dedicated the Neil Armstrong Hall of Aerospace Engineering he came back to campus to lead Shout, by far the best person to do so. He is guaranteed to have a Standing F***ing Ovation any time he returns to Purdue. The man even has schools named after him. Really, what else is there to accomplish? He should have been doing shots at Harry's that weekend.