10 Things You Didn’t Know About Neil Armstrong

July 18, 2019

Fifty years ago, Neil Armstrong boarded Apollo 11 on Earth and got out of it on the lunar surface, becoming the first human to walk on the moon. Get to know a little bit more about this historical legend with these fun facts below…or as Neil Armswan in one of Silver Dolphin’s Wild Bios board books for pre-readers that imagine historical figures as cute animals.

His Smarts Were Out-of-This-World

Neil Armstrong enrolled in Purdue University in 1947—he was just 17 at the time. That’s a good college, but he was accepted into an even better one: the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology. An uncle who had gone there told Armstrong not to bother—he’d get just as good of an education in a school closer to home. 


Armstrong possessed the two things most required of NASA astronauts in the 1960s: He had technical knowhow and extensive flight training. Armstrong had attended college in part thanks to the Holloway Plan, which paid for two years of tuition in exchange for two years of flight training and one of naval aviation service. And so, after his first two years of study, Armstrong was a navy pilot from 1949 to 1952. During the Korean War, he flew nearly 80 combat missions, then joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (it would later evolve into NASA) to work as a test pilot. He’d eventually become adept at piloting more than 200 different kinds of aircraft.

It Doesn’t Smell Like Green Cheese

There’s no oxygen on the moon, so Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had to keep their helmets on while walking on the lunar surface. But once they returned to the Lunar Module with samples of moon rocks and moon dust, Armstrong noticed that what they’d collected gave off a peculiar and particular odor. Based on Armstrong’s observations, the moon smells like a mixture of gunpowder and wet ashes.

And You Can Quote Him

Just after he took his first steps (or rather the first steps) on the moon, Armstrong issued a quote for the ages: “That’s one small step for man, and one giant leap for mankind.” While it might have made sense to have a prepared remark for such a momentous occasion, Armstrong came up with that sentence just a few moments before he said it. However, he meant to say “That’s one small step for a man, and one giant leap for mankind.” He claimed he did say the “a” (which makes the quote make a lot more sense), but that he either didn’t enunciate clearly, or it didn’t transmit properly.

Welcome Home (Now Go Over There)

What did Armstrong do after he got back from the moon? Well, in the immediate period after, he and his fellow astronauts had to go through customs (seriously), and then sit inside a sealed room for a three-week quarantine. Why? In case they picked up any weird virus or bacteria from space.

Another Trip Around the World

After he emerged healthy, Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins went on a worldwide victory tour, visiting 25 countries in 38 days, and received an audience with Queen Elizabeth II, Japanese emperor Hirohito, and Pope Paul VI.

The Fame Game

Almost overnight, Armstrong was one of the most famous people in the world — an estimated 500 million people watched the moon landing on television. He bristled at the idea of being a celebrity, however. He almost always turned down interview requests (he’d get around 10 a month, even decades after the moon landing), turned down a parade offered by his Ohio hometown, and would only speak at public events if Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins joined him.

Professor Armstrong

Armstrong mostly kept a low profile in the years after his astronomical summer of 1969. He turned down offers to run for political office and instead became a professor of engineering at the University of Cincinnati, a position he held for eight years.

From Rockets to Cars

His biggest public moment came via a 1979 Super Bowl commercial. Armstrong starred in an ad for Chrysler, because he wanted to give a boost to the struggling American automobile industry.

Hallmark His Words, He’ll See You in Court

To commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the moon landing in 1994, Hallmark stores sold a “keepsake” Christmas tree ornament bearing Armstrong’s image and boasting a sound chip that played clips from Apollo 11’s famous journey. Neil Armstrong sued the card and gift conglomerate for using his likeness without his consent. The parties settled out of the court and the terms were kept private, but it was reportedly a healthy sum. Armstrong donated his entire windfall to his alma mater, Purdue University.


Wild Bios: Neil Armswan

Meet one of history’s greatest figures in this adorable board book with an animal twist! With wings to the future and beak held high, Neil Armswan was a model astronaut and pioneer in space travel, leaving webbed footprints on the moon. With hilarious puns and colorful illustrations, this book brings his legacy and the Apollo 11 mission to life!

Want to learn more about our Wild Bios series?

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