Apollo 11 command module pilot Michael Collins wrote of his friend and colleague Neil A. Armstrong in his 1974 book Carrying the Fire, “[Armstrong] makes decisions slowly and well … [He] savors them – rolling them around on his tongue like a fine wine and swallowing at the very last moment. (He had twenty seconds of fuel remaining when he landed on the moon.)”
Today, Collins and fellow Apollo 11 crew member Buzz Aldrin remembered this decisive thinker, astronaut, and first-rate test pilot, along with luminaries including Armstrong’s two sons Rick and Mark, former Gemini and Apollo astronaut James A. Lovell, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, and Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Director Bob Cabana. In a ceremony held this morning, KSC’s Operations and Checkout (O&C) building was renamed after Armstrong. In addition, guests viewed NASA’s next “giant leap,” the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, being prepared for a scheduled launch in December.
The O&C building itself has a rich history. Built in 1964 and originally known as the Manned Spacecraft Operations Building, it was used during the Gemini, Apollo, and shuttle programs to process spacecraft and hardware (during the shuttle era, Spacelab components were processed inside the building). In addition, its crew quarters housed astronauts prior to spaceflights.
At present time, the site is being used to process Orion, which is scheduled to make its first Exploration Flight Test (EFT-1) on Dec. 4. Orion is meant to take crews beyond low-Earth orbit to asteroids and, someday, our planetary neighbor: Mars. In keeping with this spirit, Bolden presented KSC Director Cabana with a flown Apollo 11 patch, which will be carried aboard the first crewed mission to fly to Mars.
This year has seen Armstrong, who passed away following heart surgery in August 2012, become the subject of many tributes, notwithstanding today’s renaming. In March, the Dryden Flight Research Center located at Edwards Air Force Base in California was renamed the Armstrong Flight Research Center. This honor was a nod to Armstrong’s career as a test pilot prior to his 1962 astronaut selection as part of the “New Nine.”
A previous AmericaSpace article by this author underscored Armstrong’s achievements as a test pilot: “Before Armstrong became a NASA astronaut, he was a research pilot who worked at NACA’s High Speed Flight Station, which was renamed the Dryden Flight Research Center in 1976. During his career in that discipline, he flew 48 different aircraft, including the F-100A, F-100C, F-101, F-104, X-1B, X-5, F-105, F-106, B-47, KC-135, and Paresev. He also worked on the Dyna-Soar space plane program before its cancellation. He also made seven flights in the X-15 rocket plane. When he left the center to become an astronaut candidate in September 1962, he had flown over 2,400 hours. In the X-15, he had seen altitudes in excess of 200,000 feet at speeds over Mach 5.”
The 45th anniversary of the iconic Apollo 11 mission, which saw Armstrong and Aldrin become the first two human beings to set foot upon another world, will continue to be remembered this week by NASA. On Thursday, July 24, a panel discussion led by actor Seth Green will be held at Comic-Con International in San Diego, Calif. Themed “NASA’s Next Giant Leap,” the panel will feature Aldrin, NASA Planetary Science Division Director Jim Green, JPL systems engineer Bobak Ferdowsi, and NASA astronaut Mike Fincke. The panel will discuss the Orion spacecraft and its launch vehicle, the Space Launch System (SLS). Thursday’s event falls on the anniversary of Apollo 11’s splashdown, which saw the USS Hornet become “Hornet Plus Three.”
In Carrying the Fire, Collins wryly added, “Neil is a classy guy, and I can’t offhand think of a better choice to be the first man on the moon.” The continued tributes and today’s ceremony ensure this “classy guy” and legendary astronaut will be remembered by new generations of space travelers.