Today would have been the 84th birthday of Neil Armstrong, so to celebrate we’re putting him up against the other great space pioneer – Yuri Gagarin, the first person to enter outer space.
Born: 5 August 1930, Wapakoneta, Ohio
Died: 25 August 2012, Cincinnati, Ohio
Family: Neil Armstrong married wife Janet on 28 January 1956 and had three children, Eric, Karen and Mark, although Karen sadly died aged just two.
Pre-space: Armstrong went to Purdue University to study aeronautical engineering in 1947 and completed service in the US Navy during the Korean War between 1949 and 1952, flying nearly 80 combat missions. After graduating, he joined National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) which was later to become NASA. In 1962 Armstrong began work on the astronaut program and commanded his first mission four years later, launching into orbit during the Gemini VIII mission.
His big moment: On 16 July 1969, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins blasted off into space aboard Apollo 11. Four days later on 20 July 1969, they arrived on the surface of the Moon and Armstrong took the first steps on the Moon. His first words ‘This is one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’ have gone down as one of the most famous in history. After two-and-a-half hours taking photographs and samples with Aldrin, the trio returned back to Earth on 24 July 1969 by dropping into the Pacific Ocean. Armstrong was honoured with the Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Space Medal of Honor.
Fun Fact: Armstrong earned his pilot’s license aged just 16.
Born: 9 March 1934, Klushino, Soviet Union
Died: 27 March 1968
Family: Married Valentina in November 1957 and had two daughters.
Pre-space: Gagarin was driven from his home by the invading Nazis aged just seven but found a natural home among aircraft, flying alone by the age of 21. He was a top student in the Soviet Air Force learning how to fly MiGs. Following his graduation he volunteered to join the Soviet cosmonaut program.
His big moment: Yuri Gagarin was chosen out of a list of 3,000 people to become the first human in space. Not only was he an excellent pilot, but his mentality, attitude and emotional backstory made him the number one choice. On 12 April 1961, Gagarin boarded Vostok 1 and lifted off at 0907. He managed an entire orbit of the Earth and landed at 1055 the same day, having reached a top speed of 28,260kph (17,600mph).
Fun Fact: At no point during the mission did Gagarin have any control over the rocket. This was deliberate in case he went mad during the flight.