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* Neil Armstrong Hall is new home to Purdue engineering
* Donors, alumni played major role in funding Neil Armstrong Hall

October 26, 2007

Neil Armstrong sculpture, lunar footprints, unveiled at Purdue

Bronze statue of Neil Armstrong
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Purdue University unveiled a bronze sculpture of alumnus Neil Armstrong on Friday (Oct. 26) as a prelude to Saturday's (Oct. 27) dedication ceremony for a new engineering research and education building named for the first astronaut to walk on the moon.

The statue, accompanied by a trail of sculpted moon boot impressions and other symbolic features, is situated in front of the new Neil Armstrong Hall of Engineering, located at Stadium and Northwestern avenues on Purdue's West Lafayette campus.

Artist Chas Fagan, from Charlotte, N.C., created the work. The sculpture of Armstrong, depicted as an undergraduate student in the 1950s, sits on a stone plinth in front of the building. Armstrong gazes over his left shoulder in the general direction of the lunar moon boot impressions.

"When our students see this sculpture, I hope they'll believe that they, like Mr. Armstrong, can achieve the unimaginable," said Purdue President France A. Córdova. "I hope it will inspire them to reach for the stars."

Sculpture of Neil Armstrong
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The bronze statue, an 8-foot-tall, 125 percent scale likeness of Armstrong, recreates the image of a clean-cut college student wearing a windbreaker, button-down Oxford shirt, cuffed khaki pants and penny loafers. His right hand rests on a small stack of books, and his slide rule is removed from its case as though ready for action.

Mary Jo Kirk and her husband, Purdue alumnus Bob Kirk of Washington, D.C., donated the money for the sculpture. In recognition, the area in which it is located has been named Kirk Plaza.

An elliptical stone arc resembling a spacecraft trajectory is embedded flush with the ground in Kirk Plaza next to the statue. An inscription in the arc reads: "One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."

The arc leads toward the lunar footprints, which were molded from an impression made using a moon boot provided by the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. The 20 boot impressions trail away from the sculpture, running parallel to a walkway and spaced far apart to replicate the bounding gait of an Apollo astronaut. A few of the lunar prints are farther apart than others, as though created by a leaping moon walker.

Fagan said the sculpture presented several challenges.

"The moon boot prints are definitely an interesting feature," Fagan said. "Now students are really able to walk in the footsteps of Neil Armstrong."

Fagan consulted with Armstrong to ensure that he was on the right track before creating the sculpture's final design.

"I met with him privately so that I could ask him for input and get his perspective of what he was like as an engineering student at Purdue," Fagan said. "He reviewed details and made suggestions, and the design was approved by committee."

Fagan also had to meet with his subject to solve a key missing ingredient: He needed to know what Armstrong's profile looked like.

"I took photos that clearly showed his profile because none existed," Fagan said. "The age difference did not really matter because bone structure and basic features don't change. Without knowing someone's profile, you are just guessing, based on shadows you see in non-profile photographs, as to how the person looks in real life."

Armstrong also provided materials for the sculptor to work with, including photographs from family albums, his slide rule and original Purdue notebooks, said Fagan, an internationally known artist whose work adorns the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Fagan currently is working on a statue of Ronald Reagan for the U.S. Capitol building. He also created the official White House portrait of Barbara Bush, an oil painting.

Armstrong earned a bachelor's degree from Purdue's School of Aeronautics and Astronautics in 1955 and was selected for astronaut training in 1962. As spacecraft commander for NASA's Apollo 11, he and astronauts Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin completed the first landing mission to the moon in 1969, with Armstrong as the first human to walk on the lunar surface. He also had been commander of the Gemini 8 flight in 1966 when he performed the first successful docking of two vehicles in space, flew 78 combat missions from an aircraft carrier during the Korean War and was a test pilot for pioneering high-speed aircraft.

Armstrong is a retired chairman of the EDO Corp., an electronics and aerospace manufacturer.

Mary Jo Kirk has lived in Washington, D.C., for nearly 40 years. During that time she completed a master's degree in English literature from The George Washington University, held several professional sales and marketing positions, married Bob Kirk and raised three daughters. She currently serves as co-chair of The Circle, the membership program at the National Gallery of Art, which brings together people from across the nation who share an appreciation for the arts and to enhance the National Gallery. She is a member of Chapter, the governing board of the Washington National Cathedral and is a trustee of the Washington National Opera.

Bob Kirk, a retired chairman of British Aerospace Holdings Inc., the U.S. subsidiary of British Aerospace plc., earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Purdue in 1952 and received an honorary doctorate in engineering from Purdue in 1993. After graduating from Purdue, he served three years as an officer in the U.S. Navy. From 1958 to 1967 he served in key engineering and marketing positions for Litton Industries. He was based four years in Switzerland before becoming vice president and head of Litton's Washington office. In 1967 he joined ITT as vice president and product-line manager. In 1977 he became president and CEO of LTV Aerospace, holding that position until 1986. Then he was chairman and CEO of Allied Signal Aerospace from 1986 to 1989 and chairman and CEO of CSX Transportation from 1989 to 1992.

In recent years, Bob Kirk has served as a member of the board of directors of such companies as Harsco Corp. and First Aviation Services Inc. He also has served on the Defense Industry Advisory Council Committee on Military Experts, and he was a charter member of the U.S. Delegation of the NATO Industrial Advisory Group.  

Writer: Emil Venere, (765) 494-4709,

Sources: Chas Fagan, (980) 321-0532,

Leah H. Jamieson, John A. Edwardson Dean of Engineering, (765) 494-5346,  

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;


Students admire a bronze statue of Neil Armstrong during an unveiling ceremony on Friday (Oct. 26) at Purdue. Armstrong, a Purdue alumnus, also is the namesake for a new building being dedicated on Saturday (Oct. 27). Artist Chas Fagan of Charlotte, N.C., created the sculpture, which depicts Armstrong as an undergraduate student in the 1950s. (Purdue News Service photo/David Umberger)

A publication-quality photo is available at  

Artist Chas Fagan, from Charlotte, N.C., works on a sculpture of Neil Armstrong, a Purdue alumnus and first person to walk on the moon. The sculpture has been installed in front of the university's new Neil Armstrong Hall of Engineering. (Photo courtesy of Chas Fagan)

A publication-quality photo is available at  

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