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FIRST MAN: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong
Bibliophile price: £2.75
The first man to set foot on the moon on 20 July, 1969, Neil Armstrong enjoyed the celebrity that followed, although it cost him his first marriage. By temperament an undemonstrative small-town boy, Armstrong coped well with the pressures of his chosen career. By 1959, as a test pilot with NASA, Armstrong was one of a team flying the rocket-powered X-15 to the edge of space, although history has erroneously assigned that breakthrough to Chuck Yeager in 1963. Constructed to explore hypersonic flight, X-15's performance above Mach 6 was one of the achievements that prompted President Kennedy's 1961 commitment to a moon flight. Armstrong applied to be an astronaut shortly after the devastating personal tragedy that saw him and his wife Janet lose their two-year-old daughter to a brain tumour. The author suggests that his professional judgment was affected for a time, but Armstrong got the space job over 31 other applicants. The Russian Sputnik programme had started in 1957 and America was now in the space race. During the 20 July landing, alarm bells went off which Armstrong identified as routine computer overload, but he did not explain this to his fellow-astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who experienced unnecessary anxiety and later described Armstrong's "reticence" as a negative element. As the second man to step out onto the moon, Aldrin was bitter about not receiving equal media attention. The book deals with the fallout from the landing, both positive and negative, and debunks some myths. A good read. 476pp, paperback, photos.

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