Neil Armstrong - Commander Apollo 11

Fate picks the right man for the job

Painting Completed January 2016.
32 x 23.5 inches, Textured Acrylic with Moondust on Aircraft Plywood

I have painted Neil Armstrong as I believe he should be remembered by history. There he is, larger than life, thrusting the American flag forward as he stands confidently on the surface of the moon. Why was he the first human to step on the moon? I'll tell you the story as I recall it.

Prime and Backup flight crews were assigned to specific missions by our boss, Deke Slayton. Because of the uniqueness and complexity of each mission, and maybe most importantly, the simulator time that was needed to adequately train a crew, a Backup crew would rotate as the Prime crew on the third flight following the flight they were backing up. This meant that Deke needed to create six crews, three Prime and three Backup, to begin to fly the test flights to get us to the moon, including the first lunar landing.

Also at this time, we were trying to define how many test flights it would take before we could realistically attempt the first lunar landing. Most thinking went something like this:

  • First, we need to demonstrate that the command module can operate safely in space for the time it will take to fly a lunar mission. We can do this in low earth orbit.
  • Second, we need to demonstrate that the lunar module can do the same and that the command module, the lunar module and mission control can work well together, including rendezvous and docking. We can do this in low earth orbit.
  • Third, we need to ensure that the command module, the lunar module and mission control can work well together in higher earth orbits.
  • Fourth, we will want to rehearse all of the events needed to perform a successful lunar landing, with the exception of the landing itself, at the moon.
  • Fifth, we attempt the first lunar landing.

We all knew that any plan with this many moving parts would probably not go exactly as we thought. With this in our minds, none of us knew, and Deke did not know, who would be the first astronaut to set foot on the moon. An astronaut could, and many of us did, imagine a realistic sequence of flights that would result in his crew being the first to attempt a lunar landing.

A lot of things did happen along the way. We lost the Apollo One crew before we even got off the pad. I believe that, as Apollo unfolded, many of us held on to the dream we would, somehow, be the first to land on the moon. But as each succeeding mission was successful, we began to see that the Backup crew to Apollo 8, would be designated the Prime crew of Apollo 11, and would get the first chance.

Sometimes the Universe, or Fate, gets it right. I believe any of the six crew commanders would have flown the Apollo 11 mission as well, but I do not know if all of them could have handled the mantle of being the First Man on the Moon with such humility and grace.