THE BLOG
09/06/2012 12:05 pm ET Updated Nov 06, 2012

An Appreciation of Neil Armstrong: The Coolest. Dude. Ever.

In the history of humankind, only one person has a bio that includes "first on the moon": Neil Armstrong. And was he ever the right person for the job!

Thousands of dedicated people and years of work got Armstrong and his co-pilot Buzz Aldrin into the spacecraft that made its lunar landing on July 20, 1969. But in the end, it was Commander Armstrong's coolness under pressure that made the difference between success and failure, not to mention life and death.

Picture this: Armstrong and Aldrin are descending to the moon in an untried lunar lander named Eagle. Armstrong realizes that the on-board computer guiding their landing is taking the craft straight to a field of car-sized boulders. He takes manual command and looks for a flat place to land, but cannot find one right away. As the seconds tick away, fuel runs low and multiple spacecraft alarms are going off. With literally one minute of landing fuel left he sees a good spot and begins the final descent. However, the thrust of the descent rockets kicks up so much surface dust he can hardly see out the windows to guide his landing. (Remember, auto-pilot has been turned off).

At this point I pause to ask you the following question: How cool would you have been during all of this? (Don't lie to me. I know you'd be freaking out by now.)

Neil Armstrong kept his cool. With 30 seconds of fuel remaining for the descent, he guided the spacecraft to a safe lunar landing and announced to NASA Mission Control: "Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed."

I've listened to those words replayed dozens of times on radio and TV over the years. No matter how closely I've listened for any hint of tension or nervousness, I can't hear any.

And it wasn't as if he was 100 percent confident of success. He was once asked in an interview if he had thought for a long time about what he'd say when he made his first step on the moon. He replied that he saw no reason to think about it until after the Eagle had safely touched down. He was very aware of the odds.

Armstrong was very modest by nature. In a speech he gave in 2000, he declared that "I am, and ever will be, a white-socks, pocket-protector, nerdy engineer...."

But I beg to differ. There is only one acceptable description of a person who had the grace under pressure to guide the first moon landing, and that is: The Coolest. Dude. Ever.

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