First man on the moon

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Neil Armstrong, the first man to ever walk on the moon, passed away recently. Tanya Weaver looks back at this engineer’s life and how his achievements can be an inspiration to both young and old
It’s often the case isn’t it? You really only learn about a famous person’s life and achievements once they’ve passed away, as it’s then that the press publish indepth articles, especially if they have disappeared into obscurity in their latter years.

It has been 43 years since Neil Armstrong first stepped on the moon and in that time he avoided the limelight as much as possible. But despite that, he has never truly disappeared from public consciousness because he was part of one of the world’s biggest milestones.

I wasn’t alive when Armstrong took that momentous first step onto that distant world on 20th July 1969. My parents, being in their late teens, remember it very clearly. My dad said he listened to it on a small portable radio with a few friends in his tiny bedroom in the house where he lodged in Jo’burg, South Africa.

He was one of the millions around the world that listened to it on radios or huddled around small black and white TV sets. The word’s Armstrong uttered when he jumped off the spaceship’s ladder and onto the moon — ‘One small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind’ — must surely be one of the most memorable quotes of all time.

I’ve since watched the broadcast on the internet and the fact that the sound is bad and the video footage dodgy, makes it even more of a pioneering endeavour. What an achievement and to do it with all those eyes and ears from earth hanging on to your every move and sound. It actually makes me feel quite emotional especially as it was a 50/50 chance whether the astronauts would actually live through it.

In fact, I’ve read that Richard Nixon, the US president at the time, had prepared an alternative speech to give if Armstrong and his team died in their mission.

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Armstrong was a reserved man and got to where he was through hard work — he wasn’t a celeberity or politician. By his own admission he was an “engineering nerd”. Growing up in Ohio he always knew that he wanted to fly and at the age of 16 acquired his student pilot’s license.

He then went on to study aeronautical engineering, but had to stall his degree half way through to fly in the Korean War. In 1955 he joined the Lewis Research Centre (what would later be known as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)) and with quiet ambition climbed the career ladder to the point where he was picked to be the commander of Apollo 11, the first manned spacecraft to land on the moon.

Things were obviously different for him and his fellow astronauts following the moon landing. But when all the hype had died down, he went back to working at NASA but this time as the deputy associate administrator for aeronautics.

There were no huge moon missions on the cards as the US had achieved its goal of getting a man on the moon before the Russians did. And following the millions or possibly even billions of dollars spent, resources would now go elsewhere.

Apparently, not content at only having a desk job, Armstrong left NASA in 1971 and took up a post as a professor of aeronautical engineering at the University of Cincinnati (how cool would it have been to be taught by Neil Armstrong), before pursuing other business ventures.

Armstrong is a hero and role model, whether he liked it or not, and is no doubt an inspiration to many

He died at the age of 82 and his family left a very touching statement on his website (neilarmstronginfo.com). Part of which includes: “Neil Armstrong was a reluctant American hero who always believed he was just doing his job.

He served his Nation proudly, as a navy fighter pilot, test pilot, and astronaut. He also found success back home in his native Ohio in business and academia, and became a community leader in Cincinnati.” Armstrong is a hero and role model, whether he liked it or not, and is no doubt an inspiration to many, not least of all young people who can see where a career in engineering may lead.

In fact, engineers had some part to play in all the major milestones in history. Engineers breathe life into concepts for bridges, buildings, cars, aircraft, computers, washing machines, spacecraft….anything really, and make them work.

The UK is crying out for more young people to pursue engineering as a career and one way to encourage them to do that is show them what it can involve. I recently posed a question on DEVELOP3D’s LinkedIn group page asking whether design education prepares students for life in the real world.

Amongst the many different responses, Momodou S Ceesay, an engineer/graphic designer and founder of Ceesay Design Solutions, posted that he had recently had a brilliant time lecturing to over one hundred 8 to 15 year olds about aerodynamics in Formula One. He had them designing and building models using SolidWorks and Lego Digital Designer. “My experience with the next generation of potential engineers was worth it!”

Cessay is a STEM Ambassador. Basically STEMNET (The Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Network) have set up a STEM Ambassadors programme in which people from STEM backgrounds can volunteer as inspiring role models for young people and actively encourage them to enjoy STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

I think it’s a great idea and will really help to shake off the perception that engineering can be boring or nerdy. So, my challenge to you is help inspire young people by sharing with them what you do.

I’ll leave you with one last quote from Armstrong’s family’s statement that may motivate you even further: “While we mourn the loss of a very good man, we also celebrate his remarkable life and hope that it serves as an example to young people around the world to work hard to make their dreams come true, to be willing to explore and push the limits, and to selflessly serve a cause greater than themselves.”

Neil Armstrong: astronaut, engineer, reluctant hero and role model
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