Moment of Indiana History

Astronauts’ Cradle

Neil Armstrong’s history-making voyage 250,000 miles from home began two decades earlier with the 220-mile trip from Wapakoneta, Ohio to West Lafayette.

Neil Armstrong’s history-making voyage 250,000 miles from home can be said to have begun over two decades earlier with the 220-mile trip required to travel from Wapakoneta, Ohio to West Lafayette, Indiana.

Already a licensed pilot by the age of 16, Armstrong chose Purdue University over MIT in the fall of 1947 largely because of its proximity to home. Armstrong received a Navy scholarship to study aeronautical engineering at Purdue, a degree he finished after serving in Korea as a pilot.

Having joined the astronaut corps known in the press as the “New Nine” in 1962, Armstrong served on two Gemini missions before making history as the first man to walk on the moon on July 20, 1969.

Recognized on the Purdue campus with the Neil Armstrong Hall of Engineering, the Apollo 11 commander is one of 22 Purdue alumni who have been chosen for space flight.

Perhaps most memorably, Purdue alumni Virgil “Gus” Grissom and Roger Chaffee lost their lives in a fire during a preflight test of Apollo 1 in January 1967.

Purdue alumni have also included an astronaut who has repaired the Hubble Space Telescope, the record holder for most space flights, and the last man to walk on the moon.

Long before the space age, Purdue had established its reputation as a research center for mechanical engineering, and in time, a bastion of aeronautical innovation.

In the 1930s, the university hired Amelia Earhart as a technical adviser, and raised funds to purchase her legendary Lockheed Electra, which she often flew into Purdue, home of the oldest university-based airport in the nation.

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