Journalist Leon Wagener faced the daunting task of chronicling a subject famously shy of the limelight when he took on One Giant Leap: Neil Armstrong's Stellar American Journey. The book discusses Armstrong's formative years, his career first as a naval and then test pilot and even includes information about his family life, yet he remains elusive, just beyond reach.
The first man to walk on the moon clearly never intended to spend a lifetime reliving the 21 hours he spent there. Wagener writes: "Each anniversary would inevitably be an opportunity for the world to compare the man he presently was to the man he had been that glorious July of 1969." Armstrong generally limits his stints in NASA's so-called publicity "barrel" to appearances at major commemorative events.
After leaving NASA, Armstrong became an engineering professor at the University of Cincinnati, where he co-founded the Institute of Engineering and Medicine. The group, which included Dr. Henry J. Heimlich (of maneuver fame) and Dr. George Rieveschl (discoverer of the first antihistamine), contributed several improvements to heart transplant technology based on space engineering. Armstrong also continued his lifelong interest in aviation, breaking records and narrating a television series documenting aviation firsts for which he flew or rode in significant aircraft.
Obviously, the moon landing must feature into any account of Neil Armstrong's life. Wagener does an admirable job of covering Apollo 11, describing the carnival atmosphere surrounding the Cape and giving a brief rundown of the world of 1969. His detailed transcript-based passages about things like in-flight meals and the astronauts' musical preferences put the reader in the capsule.
One has to wonder whether anyone but the most devoted techie or Mars fan will be reading about the twin rovers 35 years from now. The human presence has always made space voyages more compelling. For Armstrong and his fellow Apollo astronauts, part of their mission will always be to keep the moment alive not so much for those who remember, but for those who do not.