In the early Astronaut core being a test pilot was really a key because you needed nerves of steel and "a very large pair" to hop on top of millions of pounds of thrust and allow yourself to basically be hurtled into space on top of a potential bomb. The joke in Houston was they put their left one to the left side of seat and their right one to the right side because it took a big pair with all knowing the inherent dangers of the early days of manned space flight. People could die and did die in both our program, Grissom, Chaffee, and White, and there were rumors and then confirmation of Russian deaths. Believe it or not we grieved for all of them. Watching friends die is beyond explainable.
Armstrong was the natural choice for Apollo 11 because he was a civilian and not military. NASA actually wanted the first man to be a civilian much to Buzz Aldrin's chagrin who fully understood the financial significance of being said man.
Armstrong was a kind and decent man and a man of faith. Upon landing and after his famous "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed" Armstrong took communion with Aldrin privately because Madelyn Murray O'Hair, a noted atheist, had complained and sued NASA because the Apollo 8 crew on man's maiden voyage around the moon quoted from the Book of Genesis and took this memorable picture of the Earth as it rose over the moon.
The Apollo 11 crew took this picture of Mother Earth below.
When I look at these pictures and others many of you have also seen and others you will never see I think of what someone told me once on a day when my world was crumbling around me.
When you look down on earth from orbit you realize what a glorious gift we have been given and that we need to cherish and protect her. When you look down on earth from a moon orbit the feeling of awe will choke you up even if you have a hard edge. When you look at the Earth from the surface of the moon and you do not have some faith or belief in something other than man then you are a fool.We like to think of him as an American hero but in truth he was man's hero because he and others like him from the United States and Russia were just as heroic in taking mankind into space despite the risks.
Neil Armstrong has died but his memory will live forever in history because he was the first human to ever step onto another planetary body and he did it with class and dignity. It was one small step for a man and a giant leap for mankind but more than that it was so fitting that sometimes good guys, Neil Armstrong, do get to be first.
May you rest in peace.