‘Nerd’ who skewered the Heavens

Neil Armstrong died on the 25 August 2012 aged 82. He had been the first human being to set foot on the Moon on July 20, 1969. NASA paid tribute here. He had earned an aeronautical engineering degree from Purdue University and a master’s in aerospace engineering from the University of Southern California. He flew as a fighter pilot for the US Navy from 1949 to 1952 and during the Korean War he flew 78 combat missions.

Early in the Second World War, the then UK Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill famously said this.

“When I warned them[the French Government about a year earlier]that Britain would fight on alone whatever they did, their generals told their Prime Minister and his divided cabinet, ‘In three weeks England will have her neck wrung like a chicken.’ Some chicken! Some neck!’ “ 

Armstrong was widely quoted in the many obituaries as calling himself just “a nerdy engineer”. Some nerd! Some engineer!

Armstrong and X15
Armstrong was a test pilot for the Rocket X 15.

Nerds spend their time focussed on some obscure object of their affections, frequently no further than their computer monitor, tablet screen or smart phone. Armstrong though, before the Moon, had been not just an engineer but a test pilot for the X 15 plane at the boundaries of Space. How about that? Most engineers can, and do, only dream of that career. Then he went one better: no, it must be ten better! In this case, it was rocket science. To the Moon.

Armstrong on the Moon
The only good photo of Armstrong on the Moon surface. All other photos were of Buzz Aldrin taken by Armstrong.

Nine months after the first Moon landing in April 1970, Apollo 13 had an explosion when it was half way between the Earth and the Moon. Then the wisdom of the choice of each crew member to be a combination of sharp intellect and engineer paid off. The crew returned to Earth safely. Perhaps rather than ‘safely’, that ought to be ‘successfully’: such a gigantically risky voyage, and indeed the preceding first Moon landing itself, can hardly be called safe. Courage there was yes, by the tonne, but also engineering technology as automatic reflex.

The ‘nerd’ quote, according to some, also referred to him being “white socks wearing”. Here, The Lad is reduced to incomprehension of this Americanism. How can this become connected to ‘nerdishness’? Answer comes there none.

RIP Neil Armstrong, 1930 – 2012

Engineering is one of the three drivers advancing the human race. This blog describes real professional engineering as it is in the real world. It is not well served by the current media. An engineer is posting: not a ‘scientist’. Its target is the career seeker and also the general public.


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