Over the course of the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969, astronaut Neil Armstrong put his life on the line as a matter of course. But flying around in space wasn’t the only time Armstrong was in harm’s way. More than a year before walking on the surface of the moon, on May 6, 1968, Armstrong came very close to meeting his end at Ellington Air Force Base near Houston.
While simulating a descent in a lunar landing research vehicle (LLRV), the propellant sprung a leak and Armstrong lost all control of the craft. He was forced to eject, but only a split second before the LLRV smashed into the ground, exploded, and left a crater in the concrete. Here’s a narrated video of the crash.
Watching the LLRV rise and fall, floating through the air, is rather breathtaking. And it is just as traumatic when you notice the failure. It looks like a scene out of a movie, like all of a sudden the music should take on a darker tone, only you know it’s really happening.
As amazing as that video is, here is a quick story from just after the incident, one that illustrates the guts Armstrong possessed:
In his Armstrong biography First Man, author James Hansen recounts how astronaut Alan Bean saw Armstrong that afternoon at his desk in the astronaut office. Bean then heard colleagues in the hall talking about the accident, and asked them, ‘When did this happen?’ About an hour ago, they replied. Bean returned to Armstrong and said, ‘I just heard the funniest story!’ Armstrong said, ‘What?’ ‘I heard that you bailed out of the LLTV an hour ago.’ ‘Yeah, I did,’ replied Armstrong. ‘I lost control and had to bail out of the darn thing.’ ‘I can’t think of another person,’ Bean recalls, ‘let alone another astronaut, who would have just gone back to his office after ejecting a fraction of a second before getting killed.’