40 Years On, Armstrong Remains an Enigma

By Jason Farago,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 20, 2009 6:45 AM CDT
A 1969 photo of Neil Armstrong, Mike Collins and Buzz Aldrin after returning from the moon on Apollo 11.   (AP Photo/ThinkFilm)
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(Newser) – Forty years ago today Neil Armstrong strode across the surface of the moon and became the most famous man in the galaxy. Then he disappeared—leaving NASA for a university job, attending almost no public functions, and refusing nearly all interview requests. "Neil was very much the same person after Apollo 11 as he was before it," a space historian tells the Washington Post. "The pragmatism, the modesty, the shyness were there from an early age."

Some speculate that Armstrong's caution and reticence led commanders to pick him over Buzz Aldrin as the first man to leave the spacecraft. Privately, he has confided to colleagues that he never wanted his whole career to be reduced to one two-hour walk. Yesterday he made a rare public appearance at a NASA ceremony, at which Aldrin and Michael Collins both called for a return to the moon. Armstrong didn't—saying simply, "The future is difficult to foresee."