Purdue News

October 3, 2005

Neil Armstrong biographer to give lecture at Purdue

James Hansen

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue University Libraries will sponsor a lecture by the author of a new biography on Neil A. Armstrong, a Purdue University alumnus and the first man to walk on the moon.

James R. Hansen, a professor of history at Auburn University in Alabama and a former historian for NASA, will speak about "First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong" at 7 p.m. Oct. 26 in Stewart Center's Fowler Hall.

At a reception after the lecture in the West Lounge of Stewart Center, Hansen will autograph copies of the book, which will be released in October by Simon & Schuster. Copies of "First Man" will be provided by Borders and will be for sale that evening at Stewart Center.

The lecture and reception are free and open to the public.

The talk by Hansen is the inaugural event of the Purdue University Libraries Distinguished Lecture Series.

"First Man"
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"We are tremendously pleased to kick off our first lecture series with such an accomplished scholar as James R. Hansen," said James L. Mullins, Purdue University Libraries dean. "It is our goal through the lecture series to bring the community together around important topics and to encourage intellectual stimulation and exchange."

Hansen was selected by Armstrong to be his official biographer, and Hansen was given complete access to his papers, flight logs, family letters, photographs and archival documents. The author conducted interviews with more than 125 people, including 50 hours with Armstrong himself.

The book details Armstrong's life growing up in small-town Ohio and how his early love of airplanes led him to learn to fly a plane at age 16, earning his pilot's license before he received a driver's license.

Armstrong entered Purdue on a Navy scholarship, but at 19 was called up to serve in the Korean War. As a Navy pilot, he was a member of the Screaming Eagles VF-51 squadron, flying 78 combat missions. He soon returned to Purdue, graduating in 1955 with a bachelor's degree in aeronautical engineering.

After graduation, Armstrong flew more than 900 flights on several experimental planes and became a test pilot for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the predecessor to NASA.

In 1962, Armstrong became an astronaut in response to the challenge by President John F. Kennedy to land a man on the moon by the end of the decade.

On July 20, 1969, Armstrong would become that man as commander of Apollo 11. The book explains how NASA administrators chose Armstrong for the mission and how many at NASA were pushing for the calm, reserved Armstrong to become to first person to walk on the moon instead of his more outgoing crewmate Buzz Aldrin.

Hansen also delves into Armstrong's personal life and how a rigorous training schedule and brushes with death during flight missions took a toll on his marriage.

Hansen is the author of eight books on the history of aerospace, including a study of NASA's design and implementation of the Apollo lunar-orbit rendezvous method.

In October 2004, Purdue broke ground on the Neil Armstrong Hall of Engineering, which will house the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the School of Materials Engineering and the Department of Engineering Education. Armstrong Hall also will be home to a number of engineering programs, including the Minorities in Engineering Program, Women in Engineering Program and Engineering Projects in Community Service.

To date, 22 Purdue alumni have been chosen for space flight. In addition to Armstrong, another Purdue graduate, Eugene A. Cernan, walked on the moon and was the last man to do so. Two of Purdue's alumni astronauts, Roger B. Chaffee and Virgil "Gus" Grissom, were killed on Jan. 26, 1967, when an explosion and fire occurred during a simulated launch of their Apollo spacecraft.

Writer: Kim Medaris, (765) 494-6998, kmedaris@purdue.edu

Sources: James L. Mullins, (765) 494-2900, jmullins@purdue.edu

Judith Schumaker, director of development and public relations for Purdue University Libraries, (765) 494-7987, jschumkr@purdue.edu

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; purduenews@purdue.edu


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