This week I have enjoyed looking back 45 years to the first moon walk, which happened at 10:56 PM on Sunday, July 20, 1969. I was a camp counselor at Goshen Scout Camps in the hills of Virginia at the time. Being very interested in astronomy and space, I rigged-up the black and white television in the staff administrative building and watched the live feed with a few other interested counselors. I remember at the time wondering why Neil Armstrong got to go first.
Why Did Neil Armstrong Get to Walk First? There were three men on this Apollo 11 mission – Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, and Michael Collins. Armstrong and Aldrin were the two astronauts who traveled down to the moon on the moon landing module, Eagle, while Collins remained with the command spacecraft revolving around the moon overhead.
Armstrong, who passed away in 2012, was the first person to walk on the moon. Most sources agree that NASA chose him for three reasons. First, he was in the best seat to exit once the craft was on the moon. Second, he was the mission Commander and most senior.
And, third, and more quietly reported, Armstrong had the more humble personality to best live with this honor over his lifetime. And now that I think about this, I rarely remember seeing Armstrong in the limelight. But Buzz Aldrin has loved the limelight, and is often seen on television, like Dancing with The Stars a few years ago.
Don’t forget Michael Collins. As I wrote in a prior blog, Astronaut Michael Collins is often forgotten. He was the command module pilot of this Apollo 11 mission. He was the one who piloted the command spacecraft and orbited the moon waiting for Armstrong and Aldrin to finish “playing” on the moon. He made 25 orbits around the moon and endured 45 minute communication blackouts each time the craft went dark on the opposite side of the moon. I think that, too, took courage.
The leadership stories that emerge from the first moon landing and walk are many. And these stories blossomed because of how NASA selected and determined the best roles for its astronauts. What have you read?