Is Janet Armstrong still alive
Apollo 11 - The changed lives of Neil Armstrong's children after the moon landing
The changed lives of Neil Armstrong's children after the moon landing
Rick and Mark Armstrong didn't dream of becoming astronauts like other boys. The shadow of her father Neil Armstrong, who 50 years ago was the first person to put his feet on the moon, was too big.
Rick and Mark Armstrong, you were twelve and six years old, respectively, when your father landed on the moon. How do you remember the Apollo 11 mission?
Mark Armstrong: There was always something going on at home: it was customary in the neighborhood for every flight that the door of the family whose father was in space was always open. Relatives were visiting for days, friends and neighbors came by and brought food.
Rick Armstrong: It was a kind of support network: you helped the landlady with her duties, went shopping for her, etc.
Mark: For us all the excitement was great. But in retrospect I have to say: Our mother must have been through great fears and the many people were mainly there to support her emotionally.
Did you also worry that something might go wrong with the mission?
Mark: I remember we had a family meeting before Dad left for Cape Canaveral. I was six and I can't remember what he said, but I know I got up from the table that evening and thought I'd see him again a week later and everything would be the same.
How did you experience the moon landing yourself?
Mark: We had a large color TV in the living room and a black and white TV in the parents' bedroom. I was sent to bed after landing. Rick was allowed to stay up late. They then woke me up for the first step on the moon [six hours later]. The astronaut family had a connection to NASA Mission Control, a so-called squawk box, and was able to overhear the communication.
Rick: For the landing, when the tension was greatest, we were in mother's bedroom and heard the squawk box. Even though we had visitors, our mother wanted to withdraw at that moment. We all watched the first step on the moon together. But we could hardly decipher what we were seeing. At first the picture was actually upside down.
Mark: The pictures were very grainy. In the meantime they have been polished up.
How has your life changed after the moon landing?
Marc: The huge amount of media attention has changed our lives a lot.
Rick: I would not just tell the media but the general attention. I don't think Dad was any different or our family was any different, but a lot was coming. We had to learn how to deal with it first. Today you would have a team of consultants who tell you how to respond to inquiries. Whoever lands first on Mars one day will surely have an army of advisors who will help navigate everything.
Mark: Exactly, we were totally on our own.
What were the challenges for the family?
Mark: Soon after we landed, Dad wrote a few letters upon request to Boy Scouts who had reached the highest rank in the organization. When this was published in the Boy Scout newsletter, he was overwhelmed with letters and he stopped writing them back. After the moon landing, he received around 10,000 letters a day.
Rick: He later got letters from people complaining that he hadn't written back. There was a lot going on for him. I don't know how he took it all.
Mark: Some of the people were really angry. We laugh about it now, but it gnawed at him.
Has he been spoken to often on the street?
Rick: Not very often. I still remember that we were in a shoe store not long after the moon landing and when Dad was paying for the shoes at the cash register, the salesman asked if he had been told that he looked very much like Neil Armstrong. Dad just said he'd heard that too and didn't reveal himself.
Mark: Because when he was recognized, there was immediately a swarm of people who wanted an autograph. At a football game, the score board suddenly said, “Welcome Neil Armstrong - 1st Man on the Moon”. I saw him sink into himself and sighed. Oh dear, here we go. The first one who wanted an autograph came straight away. With a heavy heart he refused, otherwise the whole stadium would have come. That hurt him a lot, but there was no other way.
In his opinion, was your father duly compensated for his performance by NASA?
Rick: He never talked about money. He was actually just a government employee. When people asked him how much he made on the moon landing, he said, "We got transportation and mileage allowance, and after they deducted accommodation and food, it was $ 43." [laughs] But of course he benefited from it afterwards as a businessman.
Did he often talk about the moon landing later at home?
Mark: No, and I wish I had asked him more questions today. But we lived with him and saw how he always had to answer all sorts of questions about it. At home we didn't want to ask the same questions again. He never voluntarily brought up the moon landing. He talked more about survival training or gliding. He loved gliding - there he was at peace with himself and the world.
What qualities did you inherit from your father?
Mark: The ability to listen. My father was a quiet man. He listened, processed the whole thing and only then did he form an opinion before finally communicating it. I am trying to do the same.
Rick: Right, Dad always took the maximum possible time to make a decision. I think I do that too. I procrastinate a lot. I must have inherited that from him.
In the fall, the feature film “First Man”, the Armstrong biography, was released in cinemas. You were both advisors. What do you still care about today?
Mark: Our mother's role. I understand them much better today. Perhaps she touched me the most emotionally because she had just died shortly before. She had all the worries and no control at all. Dad was away a lot in training camps. She had to take care of everything at home, whether she was prepared for it or not. But she never showed it. We didn't notice it and had a carefree childhood. Hats off!
Rick: From today's perspective, what bothered me the most about this film project was the sequence about our sister and her funeral. I don't specifically remember it, I was three years old then. But I can still see my sister before me in scraps of memory.
Have you ever grudged that your father was Neil Armstrong and a national hero?
Rick: I quickly realized that I couldn't outdo my father - at most with a Mars landing - but that wasn't a realistic career goal. So I was able to let go early on in this regard. But you can't get completely away from it, but you don't have to keep telling about who the father is.
Mark: Of course we want to be perceived as individuals and because of our own achievements. That is why we have never told ourselves who our father is. Because it changed the way people treated us and that wasn't always pleasant.
Was there any benefit to being Neil Armstrong's son?
Rick: Yes, we saw a lot of interesting places and met people. But we never went to a restaurant and asked for a good table because our name is Armstrong. Not a single time. I almost never said it by myself that I was Neil Armstrong's son, because what if the person then says, "So what?"
Mark: But we have come to places we would not otherwise have come. For example with him to play golf in Scotland. And I went fishing with him in Iceland. Just him and me. That was the best trip with him of all because it was just the two of us and that rarely happened.
Neil Armstrong's children
Neil Armstrong (1930-2012) and Janet Shearon (1934-2018) were married for 38 years and had three children: Eric called Rick (62), Mark (56) and Karen, who died of a brain tumor in 1962 at the age of two and a half. After the moon landing, the family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where Rick and Mark still live today. Rick became interested in marine biology and worked as a dolphin and sea lion trainer before becoming a software maker like his brother Mark. Mark also studied physics at Stanford. Both devoured the books of sci-fi author (and biochemist) Isaac Asimov. The brothers also perform as hobby musicians and have three children each. (mva)
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