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First Man -
The Life of Neil A. Armstrong
The Authorized Biography
By James R. Hansen

Though everyone knows that Ohio's own Neil Armstrong was the first man to set foot on the moon, we haven't been privy to a whole lot about this man for many years. With so-called "celebrities" taking advantage of their 15 minutes of fame, it is hard to believe that someone of this historical significance has remained so quiet and tucked away.

I picked up this book after seeing a recent interview on 60 Minutes with Neil Armstrong - his first major public interview in years. It mentioned this book - and it was important to me to read the "authorized version."

Not only did this give author James Hansen much more credibility in his writing but it allowed him access to countless people, documents and other resources that would have been impossible in an unauthorized bio.

The result is a large book - 768 pages - but a vital historical record of the amazing life of this man and the space program down to details such as Armstrong's heart rate during certain maneuvers.

Every school kid should know that Neil Armstrong was from Wapakoneta, Ohio but it was interesting to read all the Ohio (and Indiana) connections. He worked for a time at Cleveland's NASA Lewis/Glenn (before it was called that) and actually lived in Cleveland Heights for awhile.

We get some great glimpses into his early (and later) family life, his interests in models and science and see how his calm, cool personality was an early trait.

Flying was his passion whether the small planes he learned on at the airport as a teen or as a pilot in the Korean War. The book's discipline in sticking to a timeline offers an interesting chronology of the times - WWII, Korea, the Cold War, Sputnik, JFK's commitment to put a man on the moon, the start of the astronaut program and forward.

Armstrong was in the 2nd group of astronauts chosen (after John Glenn, Alan Shepard and the "Right Stuff" crew). It's fascinating to read how teams and backups were selected and trained - leading up to Gemini and then Apollo.

Equally interesting is the relationship of the astronauts and their families as they trained and lived so close together for many years and missions - through death, tragedy and great triumph.

The decision process and politics as to who would actually be the first to step on the moon (Armstrong), the 2nd (Buzz Aldrin) and the orbiting commander (Mike Collins) in the moon mission was insightful - and new to me.

Buzz Aldrin's father lobbied hard to have his son be the First Man and he and Buzz never really accepted the #2 position. In fact, it is implied that Buzz actually "forgot to take" or purposely messed up photos of Armstrong on the moon.

While Armstrong took numerous clear photos of Aldrin on the lunar surface, the only decent photo we have of the first man on the moon is the reflection in Aldrin's helmet faceplate from a photo that Armstrong took. What a shame.

This is the most thorough description of the events and people that led to this historic occasion and the days and years after it. Anyone interested in space travel, history, exploration, flying, science, etc will enjoy it.

The sad part is that NASA was fully committed to being able to place a man on Mars by 2000 and Armstrong and other experts thought this to be a natural extension and expansion of the program. But politics and budgets drastically scaled back space exploration and perhaps the next flag that will be planted on the lunar surface will be that of China.

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