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Monday, July 20, 2009

Neil Armstrong to Walk on the Moon as first man : Apollo 11

If the subject is Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon tends to turn churlish. He will defer, deflect or refuse to answer. When his little home town of Wapakoneta, Ohio, sought to honor him with a parade on the 25th anniversary of his moonwalk, Armstrong sent his regrets. He once pleaded to a newspaper reporter, 10 years after his feat: "How long must it take before I can cease to be known as a spaceman?"

As if such a thing were possible. Or even desirable.

It's not fair to call Armstrong a "recluse," as many accounts of his life after Apollo 11 invariably have. He's no cosmic J.D. Salinger or Howard Hughes, shunning the world out of spite or madness. Armstrong makes the occasional public appearance and speech, as he did Sunday at the Smithsonian and as he will do again Monday at NASA's official commemoration of the moon landing. He's also appeared in two NASA video productions over the past five years.

What's more, after resisting would-be biographers for years, he finally caved to his family's prodding and sat for more than 50 hours of interviews with Auburn University historian James R. Hansen for a 2005 biography, "First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong."

Yet for the 40th anniversary, Armstrong has once again carefully rationed himself. He told planners at the Smithsonian and NASA that he would speak at their events, but not as the keynoter, not at length and only in conjunction with other Apollo alumni. A book-signing at the Air and Space Museum featuring his Apollo 11 crew mates, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, was out of the question (Armstrong stopped signing anything some years ago when brokers began peddling bogus signatures on the Internet). Media interviews? Not a chance. "He's always been this way," says one person involved in planning the events.


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