Today in science: Neil Armstrong’s close call

May 6, 1968. More than a year before he became the first human to set foot on the moon, Neil Armstrong had a narrow escape in the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle (LLRV) at Ellington Air Force Base near Houston. The LLRV had been designed to simulate a descent to the moon’s surface, and all the lunar astronauts trained in it. That day, while Armstrong was piloting, a leaking propellant caused a total failure of his flight controls and forced an ejection.

Armstrong was fine. He bit his tongue hard during his landing by parachute, but otherwise was uninjured. described this encounter between Armstrong and another astronaut later that day:

… astronaut Alan Bean saw Armstrong that afternoon at his desk in the astronaut office. Bean then heard colleagues in the hall talking about the accident, and asked them, ‘When did this happen?’ About an hour ago, they replied.

Bean returned to Armstrong and said, ‘I just heard the funniest story!’ Armstrong said, ‘What?’

‘I heard that you bailed out of the LLTV an hour ago.’

‘Yeah, I did,’ replied Armstrong. ‘I lost control and had to bail out of the darn thing.’

Bean later recalled: ‘I can’t think of another person, let alone another astronaut, who would have just gone back to his office after ejecting a fraction of a second before getting killed.’

No doubt … Armstrong had the right stuff!

Bottom line: On May 6, 1968 – more than a year before his famous first moonwalk – Neil Armstrong narrowly escaped disaster while training in the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle (LLRV).

May 6, 2019

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Deborah Byrd

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