Happy Birthday, Neil Armstrong!

On August 5, 1930, Stephen Koenig Armstrong and Viola Louise Engel had their first child: Neil Alden Armstrong. It would have been impossible for them to guess the course of Armstrong's career as the first trans-Atlantic flights had only just been completed by Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart.

Armstrong however was inspired to leave the ground from an early age and trained to be a pilot as soon as possible. Shot down during the Korean War at age 21, he was not put off by the experience and, following graduation, became a test pilot to assist in aviation research.

From then a gradual shift into space programs followed. Armstrong took part in the Gemini 8 flight on September 20, 1965, though this was not a complete success and fellow pilot (and later moonwalker) David Scott didn't manage the planned 'spacewalk'.

Armstrong's first television interview

As for the Apollo 11 mission itself... you'll know the story. But here are five little known facts just the same:

1. Armstrong started taking flying lessons at 15, and knew how to fly before he knew how to drive - fittingly as he suffered from motion-sickness as a child.

2. A mobile phone now has more processing power than the Apollo computers had available.

3. When the Eagle detached from the main ship piloted by Michael Collins, incomplete depressurisation caused a 'pop' similar to that which fires a champagne cork across the room.

It fired the Eagle four miles off course from its intended landing site - arguably the less successful parking manoevre ever.

4. As a result, Lunar Module Pilot Armstrong nearly ran out of fuel whilst landing the Eagle, risking a crash. However, this removed another risk: the exhaust shooting back up on landing and igniting the remaining fuel.

5.The shock absorbers didn't compress when the Eagle landed, so Armstrong's walk on the Moon started with a 3.5 feet drop - a small leap for man, as it were. Of course he could have fallen much further than that without risk, given the Moon's weak gravity.

Neil Armstrong cheque
"...but don't cash it, because I will be back." - Neil Armstrong

Armstrong's influence on collectibles remains strong. Having refused to sign autographs for a number of years (including an apologetic refusal to Nancy Pelosi last year), their value has increased by 900% in the last decade according to the PFC40 autograph index.

Perhaps the most famous cheque in collectibles - written by Armstrong just before Apollo 11 was due to launch, to clear a debt just in case he didn't return ("...but don't cash it, because I will be back.") - was sold by collector Noah Bradley for $27,350 in 2009.

An Apollo 11 flight plan inscribed with the famous words "One small step for a man - one giant leap for mankind" by Neil Armstrong himself was the star lot at Bonhams' Space History Sale, April 13, 1010 bringing a remarkable $152,000.

The inscribed flight plan, sold for $152,000

Finally, the navigational chart Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin used to determine their exact position on the lunar surface just after their historic lunar landing sold for $218,000 in New York, on July 16, 2009.

If any doubt remains about the powerful influence Armstrong has on the collectibles markets, just consider that last month two men were jailed for stealing a document with Armstrong's signature.

Fortunately, it isn't necessary to break the law to gain access to his autograph, or even strands of his hair, which are on the market right now.


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