First man on Moon was a combat naval aviator

Navy Ensign Neil Armstrong poses for a photo May 23, 1952, while stationed in South Korea. (Navy photograph)

After he stepped off Apollo 11’s lunar module onto the moon’s surface, he uttered those famous words: “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Armstrong’s career started in the Navy in 1949, when he reported to his first duty station: Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida, where he learned to fly. Beginning in August 1951, Armstrong saw action in the Korean War, flying an F-9F Panther jet. While he was making a low bombing run, his jet became disabled and he safely parachuted out and was rescued.

As a naval aviator, Armstrong flew 78 combat missions over Korea. His final mission was March 5, 1952. He transitioned to the Navy Reserve and served eight years until resigning his commission in 1960. 

Neil Armstrong stands beside his X-15-1 hypersonic research aircraft in late 1960. (
NASA photograph)

Armstrong’s first foray into space was as command pilot of Gemini 8 in March 1966. He became the first civilian to fly into space.

Armstrong, along with astronauts Jim Lovell and Gene Cernan, visited service members at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, Oct. 11, 2010. During a panel discussion, the spaceflight pioneers shared their groundbreaking aerospace experiences. The visit was part of the “Legends of Aerospace Tour,” sponsored by the USO and Armed Forces Entertainment.

Navy F9F-2 Panther jets from Fighter Squadron 51 “Screaming Eagles” fly a sortie over Korea in the early 1950s. VF-51 was assigned to Carrier Air Group 5, aboard the USS Essex for a deployment to Korea from June 26, 1951, to March 25, 1952. The pilot of the lead plane, S-107, was Navy Lt. j.g. George Russell, and S-116 was flown by Navy Ensign Neil Armstrong. (Navy photograph by John Moore)

During the visit, Armstrong was interviewed by former “Good Morning America” host David Hartman. 

Asked how being a naval aviator compared to being an astronaut, he replied: “They all require dedication, skill and eternal vigilance. They all involve the acceptance of risk — military combat probably is the highest risk … and spaceflight requires that you accept some risk.”

He continued: “The actual flights in combat, test flying and spaceflight are always challenging and memorable. But the most fulfilling memories are associated with the people you work with, particularly those who made a difference and made the improbable possible. In my case, there are a lot of those people, and I am in their debt.”

Armstrong died in 2012.

Astronaut Neil Armstrong poses for a portrait June 30, 1969. (NASA photograph)