Neil Armstrong was a true pioneer of the science and art of flight. That was what drove him – pushing the frontier on human ability to travel through air and space, operating at the edge of performance. More broadly, he wanted to contribute to making the experience of flight accessible and safe for everyone. Although he was never comfortable with his status as an icon because of Apollo 11, as he got older he accepted that reality and came to enjoy sharing his experience of flying to a landing on the Moon with all who would listen.
Behind the scenes, Neil Armstrong was always willing to contribute his ideas and experience to the aerospace profession; he served on many advisory and review committees, never seeking the public spotlight.
I crossed paths with Neil many times over the past forty years, and came to know him as a gentle, witty, and caring person, and also one deeply dedicated to excellence. I have several vivid memories of Neil Armstrong. One was his delivering the eulogy at the Arlington Cemetery burial of Apollo 12 commander Pete Conrad. Neil was eloquent in capturing Pete’s sense of humor while also conveying deep sadness at Pete’s premature demise. When both Neil and I were members of the NASA Advisory Council in 2006, I was with him at Ellington Airfield near Johnson Space Center as the crew of STS-121 returned from their mission. It is impossible to capture their surprise and excitement as they walked off their plane to find an American hero there to greet them. Even, or maybe especially, American astronauts looked up to Armstrong as the epitome of their profession. The way he conducted his life can serve as an exemplar for all who seek to be the best at what they do.
Although Neil Armstrong may have passed away, his name will be part of human history forever.