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From 1955 to 1962, Armstrong was also a test pilot working on top-secret experimental programmes designed to create super-fast rocket planes that might eventually be capable of space flight.
Taking off from the Edwards Air Force Base in the California desert, east of Los Angeles, he piloted more than 200 types of aircraft.
In Britain, where the landing happened in the early hours of the morning, countless children were woken from their beds to witness the occasion.
For the first time in history, an event of monumental significance was followed by the entire world in real time.
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And it was as its commander that Neil Armstrong next spoke to Earth: ‘Houston, Tranquility Base here.
Altitude fifty-two hundred feet.’ The voice in Neil Armstrong’s ear was calm and matter of fact as his co-pilot Buzz Aldrin gave him data on the final descent of a mission officially designated Eastern Test Range No. But to the countless millions of people on Planet Earth, huddled round TV sets, pressing their ears to transistor radios or desperately waiting for the next day’s papers, it had a different name: Apollo 11. They had been four days in space, covering the 240,000-odd miles between Earth and the Moon.
For most of that time the mission had proceeded with a perfect, almost eerie smoothness.
The hero Bilbo Baggins jumps over his enemy Gollum in a tunnel, in what Tolkien described as: ‘Not a great leap for a man, but a leap in the dark.’This was the highpoint of the American Century.
Within a month, the hippy, druggy, rock-powered Woodstock Festival would throw down an all-conquering challenge to the crew-cut respectability that Neil Armstrong embodied.
Then on December 23, 1968, he received the news that would define his entire life: his appointment as commander of Apollo 11. Congress and declared America should set the goal of ‘landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth’ by the end of the decade.