On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong walked into the pages of history by stepping onto the moon’s surface. And then he did something almost as remarkable: He retired to become a college professor and private citizen, declining offers to cash in on his celebrity. As one Ohio neighbor told The Cincinnati Enquirer in 2009, “He just wanted to be a citizen in the community and take his place.”
Armstrong grew up in rural Ohio, moving 16 times for his father’s job. In 1947, he enrolled in Purdue University’s aerospace engineering program but soon joined the U.S. Navy. A naval aviator at age 19, Armstrong flew 78 missions over Korea. After his service, he completed his degree at Purdue and then became a civilian test pilot with NASA, logging 900 hours in a variety of aircraft.
In 1962, Armstrong joined NASA’s astronaut corps. He served as the pilot on the Gemini 8 mission and then became commander of the historic Apollo 11 mission.
Armstrong received countless honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Space Medal of Honor. His description of himself was more modest: “I am, and ever will be, a whitesocks, pocket-protector, nerdy engineer.”