October 1, 2018

Purdue space historian remembers ‘First Man’ as humble historic giant

John Norberg John Norberg. (Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Purdue alumnus Neil Armstrong wasn’t one to boast about his oft-quoted “giant leap for mankind” onto the moon as part of the Apollo 11 mission, according to a Purdue space historian.

“In short, I think people know very little about Neil, partly because he didn’t talk about himself,” said John Norberg. “The fact that he so rarely talked in public about Apollo 11 made the few times he did talk about it very special and very big news stories.”

Norberg is available to talk about the late Armstrong, whom he first met in 1979. Norberg worked with and interviewed the Purdue alumnus for his book “Wings of Their Dreams: Purdue in Flight.”

A chapter in Armstrong’s life is coming to the big screen on Oct. 12 with the movie “First Man,” an account of Armstrong and NASA’s work on the Apollo 11 mission, which landed on the moon on July 20, 1969.

Norberg said he’s familiar with space historian James R. Hansen, who wrote the book the movie is based on. Hansen worked with Armstrong for the book, Norberg said, using hours and hours of interviews.

Because of Armstrong’s moon landing and his legacy, Giant Leaps is the name of Purdue’s Sesquicentennial campaign. The year will highlight Purdue’s remarkable history of giant leaps, while focusing on what giant leaps the university can take to address the world’s problems. 

Armstrong was warm, funny, friendly and, Norberg said, could be talkative when relaxed.

“He was a complex man for sure, but a very nice one,” he said. “And he loved Purdue.”

Norberg said the NASA astronaut was strongly focused on the landing on the moon’s surface, making the opportunity to step out onto the surface “just icing on the cake” for him.

Norberg is the author of seven books, including “Spacewalker: My Journey in Space and Faith as NASA’s Record-Setting Frequent Flyer,” which details the story of Purdue alumnus and astronaut Jerry Ross. His eighth, Every True: 150 Years of Giant Leaps at Purdue University” will be out in the spring.

Writer: Brian Huchel, 765-494-2084, bhuchel@purdue.edu

Source: John Norberg

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