Neil Armstrong, official NASA photo. Known as a "WSS," or "White Space Suit" image, this type of portrait became the iconic image of the American Astronauts.
It was inevitable, you know. Last Saturday the family of astronaut Neil Armstrong announced that he had passed away due to complications from heart surgery performed a couple of weeks before. Born in 1930, Armstrong was 82 when he died. All of our Apollo astronauts are getting along in age. Some have passed on already, like Alan Shepard (First American in space, and commander of Apollo 14) and Jack Swigert (command module pilot, Apollo 13). The Apollo astronauts all remain in our hearts as heros of space education.
But Neil Armstrong, and his Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin, have the distinction accorded to few astronauts who have ever flown. Because of their famous and dangerous first landing on the Moon in the Apollo 11 mission, their names are forever enshrined in our memories. Perhaps because school textbooks have only so much space for history, or perhaps because television documentaries mention them more than the others, it seems to me that theirs are the first astronaut names that come to mind of the general public.
I know this, because for years, working at the Christa McAuliffe Space Education Center, I have questioned children and adults alike as they visited us. I've asked "trivia questions" to see what the general public really knows about our space exploration history. And I've come to several generalized conclusions:
1) Ask any kid "which astronaut" did whatever, and their first response is almost always Neil Armstrong. Asked to name a second astronaut, they often respond Buzz Aldrin (although some kids enjoy saying, "Buzz Lightyear".
2) Older people always know about Apollo 11. Some people remember Jim Lovell in command of Apollo 13 (thank you Tom Hanks and Ron Howard!).
3) Many older people remember Alan Shepard as the first American in space, but have forgotten that he also walked on the Moon (and played golf there!).
4) Many people remember a Russian was first is space, and half of them remember his name was Yuri something.
5) The number of kids and adults who have a good knowledge of the other astronauts in space history is rare.
With the passing of Neil Armstrong, I've enjoyed talking to people about what they remember that incredible day of July 21, 1969. Everyone who witnessed it on TV remembers where they were and what they were doing. It was a world-wide event, and one of those generational moments when the world and nation came together in awe. I won't go into Armstrong's career here, as there are many other tributes being published this week. But I would like to take a moment and let you know that Neil was not alone, he served with a team of heroes that prepared for and/or went to the Moon, and here they are:
Apollo 11: Neil Armstrong (deceased 2012), Buzz Aldrin, Mike Collins
Apollo 1: Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Ed White II, Roger Chaffee (All perished in the Apollo 1 fire-1967)
Apollo 7: Wally Schirra (deceased 2007), Don Eiselle (deceased 1987), Walt Cunningham
Apollo 8: Frank Borman II, Jim Lovell, William Anders
Apollo 9: James McDivitt, David Scott, Russell (Rusty) Schweickart
Apollo 10: Tom Staffard, John Young, Eugene Cernan
Apollo 12: Pete Conrad, Jr (deceased 1999), Richard Gordon, Alan Bean
Apollo 13: Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert (deceased 1982), Fred Haise
Apollo 14: Alan Shepard Jr (deceased 1998), Stuart Roosa (deceased 1994), Ed Mitchell
Apollo 15: David Scott, Alfred Worden, James Irwin (deceased 1991)
Apollo 16: John Young, Thomas "Ken" Mattingly II, Charles Duke
Apollo 17: Eugene Cernan, Harrison "Jack" Schmidt, Ronald Evans (deceased 1990)
Please remember them all.