November 1, 2008

Neil Armstrong gives papers to Purdue Libraries

Neil A. Armstrong
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The personal story of the first person to land a craft on the moon and to step on its surface will live forever - in the Purdue University Libraries.

Astronaut Neil A. Armstrong will give his alma mater personal papers that will serve as historic archives and scholarly resources, university President France A. Córdova announced Saturday (Nov. 1) during an event in the Purdue Memorial Union prior to the football game against Michigan.

Córdova also announced that authorized Armstrong biographer James R. Hansen will donate 55 hours of one-on-one tape-recorded interviews with the astronaut. Hansen's 2005 book "First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong" spent three weeks on The New York Times Best-Seller list.

The papers will serve as the launch pad for building a comprehensive flight collection in Purdue Libraries. The university already has a significant compilation of archives of key moments and people in flight history and will seek papers from other graduates who became astronauts. Harlan Crow, a friend to Armstrong, has made a leadership gift to be used for the collection.

Córdova, an astrophysicist who served as the first female chief scientist at NASA, said the Apollo 11 mission inspired her, and the Armstrong papers will continue to inspire future generations. It's also fitting, she said, that the donations come as NASA marks its 50th anniversary this year by celebrating past achievements and looking to the future.

"Watching a Purdue graduate take those first steps on the lunar surface influenced the course of my life. It inspired me to begin a career in science," Córdova said. "Now, Neil Armstrong - through the gift of his papers - has made our university the focal point for scholars who wish to study the space program and his historic achievements. Future historians, researchers, students and explorers will benefit from the Purdue-Armstrong connection."

Armstrong graduated from Purdue in 1955 with a bachelor's degree in aeronautical engineering. The papers represent his personal files and date to the beginning of his career.

Hansen, a former NASA historian who is a history professor and dean of the Honors College at Auburn University, also will donate interviews he conducted with other astronauts, test pilots and space program leaders.

James L. Mullins, dean of Purdue Libraries, said the papers will be housed in Archives and Special Collections, where another historical anthology is stored. The George Palmer Putnam Collection of Amelia Earhart Papers, the world's largest compilation of papers, memorabilia and artifacts related to the late aviator, also reside there.

Earhart, the first female pilot to cross the Atlantic Ocean, holder of world aviation records and a Purdue staff member starting in 1935, disappeared July 2, 1937, over the Pacific Ocean as she attempted to fly around the world.

Archives and Special Collections also house the papers of Ralph Johnson, a 1930 Purdue graduate in mechanical engineering and a flight pioneer who was the first person to document aircraft landing procedures that are still used today.

Sammie Morris, assistant professor of library science and head of Archives and Special Collections, said the Armstrong papers will be invaluable.

"For the students, the papers will create a sense of Purdue history," Morris said. "This collection could also inspire students to think, 'If he can go to the moon, what can I do?'

"For researchers, it's going to be a boon. No one has been able to research these papers or study them. The Armstrong collection, supplemented by Dr. Hansen's research materials, will illuminate the life of this great American hero better than anything we've seen before."

Armstrong, a native of Wapakoneta, Ohio, began his studies at Purdue in 1947. However, he left the university after a year and a half to serve as a U.S. Navy pilot in the Korean War. He flew 78 combat missions before returning to Purdue to finish his studies.

He later earned a master's degree at the University of Southern California and holds honorary doctorates from a number of universities.

Armstrong joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, NASA's predecessor, as a research pilot at the Lewis Laboratory in Cleveland. He later transferred to the committee's high-speed flight station at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., and was a project pilot on pioneering high-speed aircraft, including the hypersonic X-15. He has flown more than 200 models of aircraft, including jets, rockets, helicopters and gliders.

In 1962 Armstrong was selected as an astronaut and served as command pilot for the Gemini VIII mission, launched March 16, 1966. He piloted the first ever successful docking of two vehicles in space.

Later came the flight for which he is most remembered. On July 16, 1969, Armstrong and fellow astronauts Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin and Michael Collins lifted off from Kennedy Space Center for the Apollo 11 mission with Armstrong commanding. Four days later, Armstrong and Aldrin climbed into the lunar-landing module Eagle as Collins orbited in the command module Columbia.

Armstrong would later recall that landing safely on the moon was a big concern because of the many unknowns. As they closed in on the surface, alarms sounded - it was determined that Eagle's computer was trying to do too many things at once - and by the time Armstrong maneuvered the landing module past an area littered with boulders to find a spot to land, only 30 seconds of fuel remained. As the craft safely landed on the surface, he transmitted, "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed."

Mission control erupted in celebration.

More than half a billion people watched on television as the astronauts exited the craft. The two explored the surface for two and a half hours, collecting samples and taking photographs. They planted a U.S. flag and left behind a patch honoring the fallen crew of Apollo 1. A plaque on one of Eagle's legs reads, "Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon. July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind."

Armstrong, who has been the holder of 13 world records in aviation and space, spent 17 years with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics and NASA as an engineer, test pilot, astronaut and administrator.

He was professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Cincinnati from 1971-79 and retired as chairman of the EDO Corp., an electronics and aerospace manufacturer. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the Royal Academy of the Kingdom of Morocco.

Purdue Libraries is moving its Archives and Special Collections into the state-of-the-art Virginia Kelly Karnes Archives and Special Collections Research Center on the fourth floor of Stewart Center. A grand opening is slated for spring 2009.

The acquisition of the papers comes just over a year after the university's October 2007 dedication of the Neil Armstrong Hall of Engineering. A plaque there commemorates the most famous phrase in space history, proclaimed by Armstrong as he stepped foot on the moon. The plaque reads: "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."

Writer: Jim Bush, (765) 494-2077,   

Sources: France A. Córdova, (965) 494-9708

James L. Mullins, (765) 494-2900,

Sammie Morris, (765) 494-2905,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

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