No Hero, just an engineer.

It was seconds to running out of fuel.

But, he had an outward calm about him.

Yes, the Eagle has landed.

No doubt, the Crafter Artisan, Chuck Yeager, another test pilot, the first to break sound barrier, might have been impressed, although Yeager being very competitive in nature, he might not have openly expressed it.  Why give that “engineer,” any credit?
 That Engineer?  Neil Armstrong, an Engineering Rational — specifically a Designer [Architect].  Calm, Cool, and Collected.

The first man to pilot down to the moon, and the first man to step onto the moon.

If Neil Armstrong had taken a few more seconds to find a “nicer landing spot” — he and Buzz Adrin would not have gotten back alive.

“I am an Engineer by nature.” — Neil Armstrong

Rationals remain calm, cool, and collected. And if they cannot avoid these emotional states, they will avoid letting their concern, excitement, or enthusiasm show. The others are puzzled more by this seeming unflappability in trying circumstances than by any other trait of the Rational character. Indeed, because they are reluctant to express emotions or desires, Rationals are sometimes criticized for being unfeeling. However, what is taken for indifference is not indifference at all, but the thoughtful, absorbed concentration of the contemplative technologist. Just as effective technologists carefully hold their feelings in check and gauge their actions so that they do not disturb their technological research or contaminate their results, so Rationals are prone to control themselves in the same deliberate manner, being careful to avoid reading their own desires, emotions, and expectations into their observations. [Personology, page 253]

Armstrong’s calm and coolness, and technological prowess and vision were evident very early in his life.  He was enthralled by air flight as a boy and as a man who fought in the Korea War, to become a test pilot afterwards, he then developed a cool passion for space exploration.

Many of the test pilots at Edwards praised Armstrong’s engineering ability. Milt Thompson said he was “the most technically capable of the early X-15 pilots.” Bill Dana said Armstrong “had a mind that absorbed things like a sponge.” Those who flew for the Air Force tended to have a different opinion, especially people like Chuck Yeager and Pete Knight who did not have engineering degrees. Knight said that pilot-engineers flew in a way that was “more mechanical than it is flying,” and gave this as the reason why some pilot-engineers got into trouble: their flying skills did not come naturally.

Yep, only those pedal-to-the-metal Crafter Artisans, like Chuck Yeager, Alan Shepard, “are naturals” when steering any kind of vehicle.   But Armstrong had all that “book learnin‘” and practice to get to competent.  Well, at least enough — to land onto the moon, the first time in the history of mankind.

Armstrong was an engineer from the start. ‘A younger Armstrong was hooked and began devouring books and magazines about aviation. He also built model airplanes. He was most interested in how the different designs flew, something he observed as he threw models out from his bedroom window… he decided while still in grade school that he wanted to be an aeronautical engineer.’

“I thought ‘DESIGN’ – that’s the epitome of an aeronautical career and that’s what I strived for.”  — Neil Armstrong

Learning to fly was actually part of Armstrong’s goal of becoming an aeronautical engineer. He thought that if he was going to design aircraft, he better know how to fly them. Otherwise how could he know just how a design really worked?

Armstrong, with his dual background in piloting and engineering, was assigned the task of designing the launch abort manoeuvre. He was also heavily involved in the Gemini program while still working at Edwards as an engineer behind the Paraglider Research Vehicle. Working for NASA, Armstrong applied his background from Edwards to designing simulators for Gemini and Apollo spacecraft.

Armstrong, who always downplayed his role being the most famous astronaut; although he had figured before he flew his Apollo 11 mission, that the success of  it was 50-50 proposition on them getting back alive.  Obviously he believed in space exploration, enough to take that calculated risk.  He really didn’t see landing on the moon as an exercise in flying, but rather a feat of engineering, where 400,000 other people were involved in the success.

Even in his final years, Armstrong remained committed to space exploration. The press-shy astronaut returned to the spotlight in 2010 to express his concerns over changes made to the U.S. space program. He testified in Congress against President Barack Obama‘s decision to cancel the Constellation program, which included another mission to the moon. Obama also sought to encourage private companies to get involved in the space travel business and to move forward with more unmanned space missions.

Taking this new decision, Armstrong said, would cost the United States its leadership position in space exploration. “America is respected for its contributions it has made in learning to sail on this new ocean. If the leadership we have acquired through our investment is simply allowed to fade away, other nations will surely step in where we have faltered. I do not believe that would be in our best interests,” he told Congress, according to a report on NewsHour. [Wikipedia]

“In my own view, the important achievement of Apollo was a demonstration that humanity is not forever chained to this planet, and our visions go rather further than that, and our opportunities are unlimited. Perhaps it won’t matter, in the end, which country is the sower of the seed of exploration. The importance will be in the growth of the new plant of progress and in the fruits it will bear. These fruits will be a new breed of the human species, a human with new views, new vigor, new resiliency, and a new view of the human purpose. The plant: the tree of human destiny.” — Neil Armstrong

Seeing into the future, with a clear vision, he doesn’t see himself as a hero: or solely defined as the first man on the moon.  “It wasn’t planned, it was circumstance.”  Any other astronaut could have been the first.  No, he didn’t view himself as a hero as others did, he was just an Engineer. A Strategic Designer.

I am, and ever will be, a white-socks, pocket-protector, nerdy engineer — born under the second law of thermodynamics, steeped in the steam tables, in love with free-body diagrams, transformed by Laplace, and propelled by compressible flow. As an engineer, I take a substantial amount of pride in the accomplishments of my profession.

Yep, an Engineer.  But, maybe not a just an Engineer, but more a Design Engineer — with having had a hand in designing the future of the humankind.


Research is creating new knowledge. — Neil Armstrong

0 thoughts on “No Hero, just an engineer.”

  1. There is this touching scene, 1995 in Ron Howard’s “Apollo 13,” Neil is depicted (played by Mark Wheeler), comforting Jim Lovell’s mother along with Buzz Aldrin, during the perilous flight of the third Apollo mission (to the moon), and Jim’s mother asks Neil is he in the space program too…:-)

  2. Armstrong’s story reminds me of another Architect Rational with piloting experience: former Marine Corps fighter pilot David W. Keirsey.

  3. I had a chance to see Buzz Aldrin, probably an ESTP and fighter jock at a local Presidential Library recently. Very smart and charismatic man, with a real Ph.d. from M.I.T. He now believes that the USA should work with Russia and China to colonize Mars in the next 2 decades! Maybe those old guys like Armstrong and Aldrin can use their skills to deal with the artisans on Capital Hill to get the funding to do it!

  4. As an Engineer Rational and wartime aviator myself, I hope to see the sunset of Neil’s idea (and many of his generation) that it was good for government to take money at gunpoint from citizens to use for a purpose which in no way serves the individual liberty of those same citizens (I admit to being a skeptic that space exploration serves any collective purpose, but certainly not that of the individual). His statement that “we” have a comparative advantage in space flight make little sense to me. Our government has thrown many dollars at space flight, to comparatively little benefit for those who paid the taxes to fund NASA.

    Let space flight be funded by those who find benefit in that sort of thing, and who spend their own money to that end.

    The lesson for me is that Armstrong played his role competently, as any of us would wish to do.

    1. Do you really want China or Russia to colonize Mars without our concurrent involvement in this breathtaking “step for all mankind”? A group of British scientist at the 40th anniversary commemoration of this event wrote the following: “It was carried out in a technically brilliant way with risks taken … that would be inconceivable in the risk-averse world of today…The Apollo programme is arguably the greatest technical achievement of mankind to date…nothing since Apollo has come close [to] the excitement that was generated by those astronauts – Armstrong, Aldrin and the 10 others who followed them.”

    2. Private sources tried to build railroads and irrigate the west. Those projects were simply too massive for any one person/company or any private collective to accomplish. Eventually, the government stepped in and made sure both projects could happen, as well as the highway system and other important activities. The country benefitted. Space is the same way. It needs to be done as a public utility. With the infrastructure in place, private enterprise can then do the things it wants.

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