Prominent Alumni donates papers to Purdue University

Old Photo of Neil Armstrong and Eugene Cernan
Current Photo of Eugene Cernan and Neil Armstrong
Two prominent Purdue Alumni have donated personal papers that will serve as historic archives and scholarly resources.

Purdue Astronaut alumni Neil A. Armstrong BSAE’55, DEA’67, HDR’70, OAE’99 and Eugene A. Cernan BSEE'56, HDR'70, OECE '92 have both donated personal papers to Purdue Libraries Archives and Special Collections.  Both papers will be a central feature in a growing compilation of primary source material detailing the University's integral role in flight history.

Special Collections already includes The George Palmer Putnam Collection of Amelia Earhart Papers, the world’s largest compilation of papers, memorabilia, and artifacts related to the late and legendary aviator.  Plans are underway to request and acquire papers from other Purdue graduates who became astronauts. 

Announced by University President France A. Córdova on November 1 2008, Córdova, an astrophysicist who served as the first female chief scientist at NASA, said the Apollo 11 mission inspired her, and the Armstrong papers will continue to inspire future generations. It's also fitting, she said, that the donations come as NASA marks its 50th anniversary this year by celebrating past achievements and looking to the future.

Armstrong graduated from the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics in 1955 with a bachelor's degree in aeronautical engineering. The papers represent his personal files and date to the beginning of his career. 

"Watching a Purdue graduate take those first steps on the lunar surface influenced the course of my life. It inspired me to begin a career in science," Córdova said. "Now, Neil Armstrong - through the gift of his papers - has made our university the focal point for scholars who wish to study the space program and his historic achievements. Future historians, researchers, students and explorers will benefit from the Purdue-Armstrong connection."

In 1962 Armstrong was selected as an astronaut and served as command pilot for the Gemini VIII mission, launched March 16, 1966. He piloted the first ever successful docking of two vehicles in space.

Later came the flight for which he is most remembered. On July 16, 1969, Armstrong and fellow astronauts Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin and Michael Collins lifted off from Kennedy Space Center for the Apollo 11 mission with Armstrong commanding. Four days later, Armstrong and Aldrin climbed into the lunar-landing module Eagle as Collins orbited in the command module Columbia.

Armstrong would later recall that landing safely on the moon was a big concern because of the many unknowns. As they closed in on the surface, alarms sounded - it was determined that Eagle's computer was trying to do too many things at once - and by the time Armstrong maneuvered the landing module past an area littered with boulders to find a spot to land, only 30 seconds of fuel remained. As the craft safely landed on the surface, he transmitted, "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed." Mission control erupted in celebration.

The acquisition of the papers comes just over a year after the university's October 2007 dedication of the Neil Armstrong Hall of Engineering. A plaque there commemorates the most famous phrase in space history, proclaimed by Armstrong as he stepped foot on the moon. The plaque reads: "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind." 

Eugene A. Cernan, BSEE '56, HDR '70, OECE '92, the most recent person to walk on the moon, is also donating his personal papers to the university's flight archives, Purdue President France A Córdova announced January 16, 2009. "Eugene Cernan set an example of singular achievement for students at Purdue. His legacy is for the world and the ages. We're honored that he has chosen to donate his collections to Purdue and that he continues to remember his alma mater." Córdova said at the announcement.

"I am extremely proud and honored to be included in the archives of Purdue University with so many people who have contributed so much to our nation," Cernan said.

A Chicago native, Cernan graduated from Purdue in 1956 with a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering and was commissioned through the university's ROTC program. He entered flight school after graduating, and in 1963 received a master's degree in aeronautical engineering from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School.

Cernan was one of 14 astronauts selected by NASA in 1963. He carried out three space flights. As a pilot aboard Gemini IX in 1966, he became the second person to walk in space. He was a lunar module pilot for the Apollo X mission in 1969.

As commander of Apollo XVII in 1972, he became the most recent person to walk on the moon's surface. Cernan participated in the design, engineering and development testing of spacecraft hardware and systems for NASA. He was a member of NASA's senior management team and reviewed decisions that directly affected operations in mission planning. He recently wrote his autobiography "The Last Man on the Moon."

To date, 22 Purdue alumni have been chosen for space flight. Purdue is known as the "cradle of astronauts," and its alumni have flown on more than one-third of all manned U.S. flights.

Córdova announced Cernan's donation on the second of a six-stop tour visiting Purdue alumni in regions across the United States. The “Purdue on the Road” tour began January 15 in Dallas. See the article below for more details.

Photo at left ~ Neil Armstrong and Eugene Cernan during their time working with NASA.

Photo at right ~ Neil Armstrong and Eugene Cernan during the dedication of the Neil Armstrong Hall of Engineering - October 27, 2007


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