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Purdue remembers Neil Armstrong

Neil Armstrong, the first human to set foot on the moon, and a Purdue University aeronautical engineering alumnus, died Saturday August 25, 2012.

In 1947, Armstrong enrolled at Purdue University on a Navy scholarship to pursue a degree in aeronautical engineering. In 1949 the Navy called him to active duty in the Korean War.

Avionics Club at Purdue Airport, Left: Frank V. Claire, Right: Neil Armstrong, 1949

As a Navy pilot, he flew 78 combat missions. He received three medals for his military service. In 1952 he returned to his studies and completed his BS at Purdue and an MS in aerospace engineering at the University of Southern California.

Armstrong with X-15 jet. Undated image courtesy of NASA

As a research pilot at NASA's Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif., he was a project pilot on many pioneering high-speed aircraft, including the well known, 4000-mph X-15. He flew over 200 different models of aircraft, including jets, rockets, helicopters and gliders.

Undated, courtesy NASA

Armstrong transferred to astronaut status in 1962 and was assigned as command pilot for the Gemini 8 mission. Here he presents Purdue President Frederick Hovde a flag that he carried with him on his mission. The Gemini mission was the first successful docking of two crafts and was integral to the success of later missions.

Gala Week Banquet 1966; Armstrong was in the class of 1955.

Armstrong received honorary doctorates from 17 countries, and was the recipient of many other honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Congressional Space Medal of Honor, Explorers Club Medal, NASA Distinguished Service Medal, Harmon International Aviation Trophy, Royal Geographic Society's Gold Medal, Federation Aeronautique Internationale's Gold Space Medal, and the American Astronautical Society Flight Achievement Award.

Armstrong receives honorary doctorate of engineering January 9, 1970.

Armstrong was a regular visitor to campus his entire life. He was part of the Purdue marching band and the Phi Delta Theta Fraternity. Armstrong enjoyed Purdue football immensely. Students have remarked how surprised they were at Armstrong’s genuine interest in their academic pursuits.

Neil Armstrong holding up a replica of the Old Oaken Bucket, 1970.

Armstrong retired from NASA in 1971 after the Apollo 11 flight. Although frequently in the company of politicians, Armstrong remained largely undefined politically, unlike many other astronauts. Rather, he devoted himself to teaching, serving as Professor of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Cincinnati, 1971-1979. He served on many boards and was a tireless champion for engineering and aeronautic education.

Senator Birch Bayh, President Hovde, Neil Armstrong, Governor Ed Whitcomb, circa 1970.

23 Purdue graduates have been selected as NASA astronauts. In 1985 Purdue hosted an astronaut reunion.

Front row, left to right: John Casper, Neil Armstrong, Purdue Pres. Stephen Beering, Eugene Cernan, Roy Bridges, Robert Foerster. Middle row, left to right: Mark Brown, John Blaha, Richard Covey, Gary Payton. Back row, left to right: Loren Shriver, Don Williams, Mike McCulley, Guy Gardner, Jerry Ross, Charles Walker.

Armstrong’s footprint on the lunar surface may endure for millennia. His impact on Purdue endures as well. Armstrong Hall is the flagship building for Purdue’s world-renowned Engineering program. Designed to inspire the spirit of discovery of the space program, it is the manifestation of a true friendship between a world-class university and a man whose boundless ideas, optimism and dedication propelled him to feats that captivated the world.

Neil Armstrong speaks to the crowd celebrating the dedication of Neil Armstrong Hall of Engineering on Purdue’s West Lafayette campus.

Thanks to Purdue University News Service, Purdue University Alumni, Purdue University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections, UK Guardian, Associated Press.