Skip to main content

Synopsis of Neil Armstrong's address at Augustana in 1972

Neil Armstrong in Centennial Hall
Neil Armstrong speaking in Centennial Hall.

(Editor's note: A commemorative booklet was published by Augustana College after its Seminar on Space Exploration in February 1972. The following account of Neil Armstrong's address is one of several in the booklet. The author is unknown.)


Neil Armstrong

Commander of Apollo 11

Professor of Engineering

University of Cincinnati

There was an element of tension expressed everywhere; students, staff, townspeople and visitors from long distances filled the auditorium to overflowing. Suddenly the lights grew dim and went out completely.  On the huge screen above the stage could be seen in sequence the last minute preparations at Cape Kennedy, the blast off of Apollo 11, selected activities of the astronauts en route to the Moon, mankind's first step there, the raising of the American flag, deployment of scientific equipment, a panoramic shot of the moonscape, the return flight, splashdown in the Pacific, and the welcome by President Nixon aboard the S.S. Hornet. No words were spoken throughout the film clip, but appropriate music contributed to the mood of the moment. Upon the return of the lights spontaneous applause erupted and all eyes focused on one man seated before them on stage - Neil Armstrong.

The ovation continued for some minutes before Chaplain Sorensen finally stepped to the podium to introduce the honored guest. His introduction seemed inspired and built gradually to a climax which triggered a standing ovation for the astronaut.

Neil Armstrong immediately won his audience with humorous anecdotes and then developed the thought that critics of the Space Program are asking that we concentrate our energies in restoring our environment and reducing tensions between peoples. He thinks that we have made progress through the signing of treaties which reserve outer space for peaceful purposes only. Ironically, this means that the only place in man's universe where war is permitted is on the planet Earth! Due to space travel and pictures taken of the Earth - and all of us have seen that blue sphere on the black background of space - men now refer to Earth as a spacecraft whose environment must be protected, whose limited resources must be conserved, and whose crew members must strive to get along with one another. This new awareness of the fragility of our existence may be one of the most important consequences of our whole space program.

America must continue to explore the universe. Civilization needs new frontiers. Applications of space technology have brought great dividends. Satellites are contributing to our understanding of weather patterns. Information gathered from them has led to seeding hurricanes and taking the violence out of them. There are instances when thousands of lives and millions of dollars of property damage have been saved. Perfection of these techniques may well abolish the natural calamity of severe storms.

Medicine is one of the prime beneficiaries of space research due to the fact that the manned program required biological studies and demanded equipment to permit man to live and work in an unfriendly environment. Microminiaturization, instrumentation and telemetry increase hospital efficiency. Parts of space suits, helmets, and training equipment have been adapted for surgery, therapy and rehabilitation.

At this point Neil Armstrong elected to forego other applications and concentrated instead on the main theme of the Seminar. Since the Seminar transformed the campus into a three day "Lunaversity" with distinguished alumni and other scientists sharing discoveries and interpretations, and with lectures and discussions inviting individual participation, he felt that the Convocation could well be spent in reviewing our planetary history and in striving for a common perspective.

Since he favors the theory that the Earth and Moon developed as twin planets revolving around each other, he concentrated his remarks on how celestial materials coalesced to form both the Earth and Moon. Chance collection of certain materials as they revolved about the Sun and in some cases collided violently with the Moon would leave huge craters on the surface. At the same time these collisions would cause exploding fragments of the surface to be thrown hundreds of miles to new resting places - and would even impart escape velocities to some materials which left the Moon and orbited the Sun. Pressures of the overlying layers, combined with natural radioactivity, built up sufficient heat to the point where geysers of liquid rock forced their way through the surface. This liquid rock cooled quickly in the vacuum of space and solidified into black glass which in turn shattered into fragments when they fell to the surface below.  Aeons of time are involved and the process repeated itself over and over again until things finally began to quiet down.

A fascinated audience listened silently as attention gradually was focused on the genesis of a single rock which itself watched the evolution of the desolate lunar surface. Eventually it was picked up by a white creature with a peculiar metal device, thrown into a box with other rocks, returned to earth via a space capsule, given a number, dismembered, placed in a nitrogen environment and incorporated into an exhibit. While deftly weaving this story Neil Armstrong had described the history of the particular moon rock which was on display in the John Deere Planetarium throughout the Seminar. Many who had visited the display earlier felt the need to return for a second look. In the words of one such returnee, "There seemed to be so much more there the second time; frankly, I had the eerie feeling that he looked at me as if I didn't belong!" 

If you have news, send it to! We love hearing about the achievements of our alumni, students and faculty.