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T Minus 14 Days and Counting

July 16th, 1969: launch day for Apollo 11, the ship that put the first men on the moon.

Who2 will celebrate the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11 for the next three weeks, right through splashdown on 24 July. We’ll have a photo a day, mostly from the marvelous NASA history archives, along with assorted notes and commentary.

And plenty of salutes to Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin, the three stud astronauts who flew to the moon in a cramped command module, drinking Tang, sleeping upside down, and working a flight computer about as powerful as the gadget that now triggers the “fasten seatbelts” chime in your 1998 Corolla wagon.

They were the right guys for the job.

On to photo number one, from way back in 1961:

That’s Neil Armstrong during his days as a NASA test pilot, next to X-15 #1 after a research flight. The X-15 was a rocket-powered aircraft 50 feet long, a “missile-shaped vehicle with an unusual wedge-shaped vertical tail.”

NASA calls the X-15 “the most remarkable of all the rocket research aircraft.” It was typically launched from a B-52 at 45,000 feet and went up from there. The plane set an unofficial world altitude record of 354,200 feet in 1964, and the speed record for winged aircraft — a modest 4,520 miles per hour — in 1967. It was retired in 1968.

Only three of the crazy things were built, and Armstrong was one of 12 test pilots. Michael Adams, one of the 12, was killed in the 1967 crash of X-15 #3 after the plane went into a spin at 200,000 feet.

By then, Armstong was already preparing for the ride of his life on Apollo 11.

Here’s a wider shot of Armstrong and the X-15.

(Photos courtesy of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.)

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