Former NASA shuttle astronaut Story Musgrave reflects on the life and legacy of his colleague, Neil Armstrong.
Neil Armstrong, the commander of the Apollo 11 spacecraft and the first human to walk on the moon, died on Aug. 25 at the age of 82. Story Musgrave, the only astronaut to fly on all five of NASA’s Space Shuttles, remembers the space pioneer.
Where were you when Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon?
In mission control in Houston, Texas.
Can you tell me what you remember from that experience?
[After the landing,] a handful of us had to go outside. I think that was very poignant. We had to go look at the moon with our eyes in the parking lot of mission control. That was the most powerful experience I had. Of course, the landing was very dramatic, and everything going on on the moon, but to step outside and see the moon and look at that thing and say, “There are humans, there are humans on that moon” …
No. That’s not why I was on the job. Seeing him do that, I did not self-reflect. I did not look in the mirror myself.
But I had helped. I helped him with the procedures of getting out the door. I had helped in a minor way with the life-support system for the suit he had on. I had worked a little bit on the procedures for how you get the hoses off the life support for the lunar lander and on to your own life-support system. Things like that. But no, I was not self-reflective.
Did you know Neil Armstrong personally?
Of course, I knew everyone personally, because I stayed 30 years. But I did not know him particularly well. I don’t think anybody did. He was, as we all know, an extraordinarily quiet man.
But I knew him as a neighbor. We all lived within three to five miles of the space centre in little incorporated towns in Houston. Neil was in my little neighborhood, which was called El Lago, Texas. There were a handful of us astronauts that chose that town to live in. He was a block away, so I ran into him, and my kids would run into his kids now and then.
What was Neil Armstrong’s legacy?
He was the point man for one of the grandest adventures that we ever took. That’s who he was. He led the way.
You know, the probabilities were not that good that he would be the person to do it. The way crews were laid out, everything had to happen, and it had to happen right. But it did happen like that. We got there. And Neil was the one that got to do it.
He was the first human being to land on another body. He’s the icon, the point man, for one of the greatest episodes of history and exploration that’s ever happened. He’ll stand as the man who was the representative for 400,000 people that took us there, and for all four billion humans that were alive at the time.
Story Musgrave was a NASA astronaut for more than 30 years, and flew on six space flights. He performed the first shuttle spacewalk on Challenger’s first flight, and was the lead spacewalker on the Hubble Telescope repair mission. He is the only person to have ever flown on all five shuttles.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
Photo courtesy of Reuters.