"First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong" by James R. Hansen, Prologue–Part Two

This biography explores the life and legacy of the first astronaut to walk on the moon.

Here are links to our lists for the biography: Prologue–Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven, Part Eight

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definitions & notes only words
  1. module
    detachable compartment of a spacecraft
    On a big motor cruiser owned by North American Aviation, builder of the Apollo command module, Janet Armstrong, the wife of Apollo ll’s commander, and her two boys, twelve-year-old Rick and six-year-old Mark, stood nervously awaiting the launch.
  2. incipient
    only partly in existence; imperfectly formed
    Originally, the White House had planned for Nixon to dine with the Apollo 11 astronauts the night before liftoff, but the plan changed after Dr. Charles Berry, the astronauts’ chief physician, was quoted in the press warning that there was always a chance that the president might unknowingly be harboring an incipient cold.
  3. ethereal
    of heaven or the spirit
    Others charged that the materialism of the American space program would forever ruin the wonder and beautiful ethereal qualities of the mysterious Moon, enveloped from time immemorial in legend.
  4. palpable
    capable of being perceived
    Nowhere on the globe was the excitement as palpable as it was throughout the United States.
  5. irreverent
    showing lack of due respect or veneration
    CBS’s sixty-one-year-old commentator Heywood Hale Broun, best known for his irreverent sports journalism, experienced the liftoff with several thousand people along Cocoa Beach, some fifteen miles south of the launchpad.
  6. de facto
    existing, whether with lawful authority or not
    Reverend Ralph Abernathy, successor to the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and de facto leader of the American civil rights movement, marched with four mules and about 150 members of the Poor People’s Campaign for Hunger as close as they were allowed to get to the sprawling spaceport.
  7. fervent
    characterized by intense emotion
    Over the years since she had given her life to Jesus Christ as a young teenager, she had uttered many fervent prayers, “but never was there a prayer like this one. I had actually heard the announcement with my own ears that our son had been chosen to be on the coming Moon landing team!”
  8. facilitate
    make easier
    To facilitate their coverage of Apollo 11 from Wapakoneta, the three major TV networks erected a shared eighty-five-foot-high transmission tower in the driveway of the Armstrong house.
  9. embellishment
    elaboration of an interpretation with decorative detail
    Among a few locals, the media spotlight inspired a different kind of civic embellishment. Some told exaggerated stories, even outright lies, about their special connection to the astronaut.
  10. explicit
    precisely and clearly expressed or readily observable
    We all had explicit faith in NASA and our boys, and I had a feeling that our Heavenly Father was the Supreme Commander over all....
  11. progenitor
    an ancestor in the direct line
    Legend traced the name to a heroic progenitor by the name of Fairbairn.
  12. endemic
    native; originating where it is found
    The great Scottish writer and onetime Borderlands resident Sir Walter Scott wrote four centuries later in his poem “Lay of the Minstrel” of the flaming arrows emblematic of endemic clan feuds: “Ye need no go to Liddisdale, for when they see the blazing bale, Elliots and Armstrongs never fail.”
  13. flagrant
    conspicuously and outrageously bad or reprehensible
    Decades’ worth of flagrant expansion by the Armstrongs into what had come to be known as “the Debatable Land” eventually forced the royal hand, as did their purported crimes of burning down fifty-two Scottish churches.
  14. pretext
    a fictitious reason that conceals the real reason
    Under the pretext of a hunting expedition, James V marched his forces southward in search of Johnnie Armstrong of Gilnockie, known locally as “Black Jock.”
  15. legacy
    a gift of personal property by will
    Stephen Armstrong (Generation No. 7) received his grandfather Van Nuys’s legacy of roughly two hundred dollars in cash and goods when he turned twenty-one in 1846.
  16. adage
    a condensed but memorable saying embodying an important fact
    The previous school year, Viola had kept a “commonplace book” filled with “Memory Gems,” such as D. L. Moody’s adage, “If I take care of my character, my reputation will take care of itself.”
  17. elegy
    a mournful poem; a lament for the dead
    From Philip Freneau’s romantic elegy “The House of the Night,” she learned “what death really is and should be.”
  18. hallowed
    worthy of religious veneration
    The doctor did not permit her to attend her father-in-law Willis’s funeral, but with Stephen at home she arranged for Neil to be baptized by Reverend Burkett, the minister who had married them, in a “ hallowed place, truly sacred,” the same living room where the couple’s marriage and Neil’s birth had taken place.
  19. exhort
    spur on or encourage especially by cheers and shouts
    Staging a photo with his birthday-present puppy dog, Tippy, Viola had to exhort a reluctant Neil, “Stand up there like a man!”
  20. inscrutable
    difficult or impossible to understand
    Neil’s unusual combination of coolness, restraint, and honesty could be read as inscrutable.
  21. preclude
    make impossible, especially beforehand
    But a person’s being “good” did not preclude resolution to the point of stubbornness.
  22. conjugal
    relating to the relationship between a wife and husband
    On the surface, the relationship appeared solid. But underneath, the conjugal union seems to have run an all-too-typical course, from loving passion to emotional distance.
  23. trappings
    ornaments; embellishments to or characteristic signs of
    One divisive issue was religion and the accompanying moral trappings of temperance, in drink and language.
  24. temperance
    the trait of avoiding excesses
    One divisive issue was religion and the accompanying moral trappings of temperance, in drink and language.
  25. deism
    the belief in God on the basis of reason alone
    Though uncertain of the principles of deism, Butchart praised Neil as a man of impeccable character whom he would and, during their flying together, did trust with his life.
  26. terse
    brief and to the point
    According to Dean, whenever his mother spoke about religion, Neil would listen politely and in silence, offering some terse comment only if pressed.
  27. evasive
    deliberately vague or ambiguous
    Like many journalists covering the space program, CBS’s Walter Cronkite also experienced Neil’s nonconfrontational—some have even said evasive—style.
  28. non sequitur
    a reply that has no relevance to what preceded it
    According to Neil’s brother Dean, Cronkite on another occasion asked Neil if he felt closer to God when he stood on the Moon’s surface, to which Neil gave a totally ridiculous non sequitur: “You know, Walter, sometimes a man just wants a good cigar.”
  29. ephemeral
    lasting a very short time
    In the view of the Original Seven, if the famous ephemeral quality that came to be known as “The Right Stuff” existed at all, it derived socially from their common upbringing.
  30. indelible
    not able to be removed or erased
    In their Wolf Patrol, Neil, Bud, and Kotcho entered into one of those indelible adolescent friendships that thrived on good-natured rivalry.
  31. turbine
    an engine that causes a bladed rotor to rotate
    Neil had made a steam turbine out of scraps of wood and a little alcohol lamp that heated the little boiler. Every time he lit that lamp, his turbine would turn with such speed and eloquence.
  32. epigram
    a witty saying
    Accompanying Armstrong’s senior class picture in the Blume High School yearbook for 1946-47 was the telling epigram, “He thinks, he acts, tis done.”
  33. congenial
    suitable to your needs
    In the quietly congenial world of the series of midwestern towns that amounted to the truest Tranquility Base that he would ever know, Armstrong prepared to meet the world.
  34. dote
    shower with love; show excessive affection for
    The Moon, so Zint said, “seemed to be Neil’s main interest. He would dote on it, ”as well as expressing “a particular interest” in “the possibility of life on other planets....We hashed it over and concluded there was no life on the Moon, but there probably was on Mars.”
  35. impugn
    attack as false or wrong
    “To the best of my recollection,” Armstrong admits today with reluctance and typical reserve, so as not to overly impugn the reputation of Wapakoneta’s highly publicized amateur astronomer, “I was only at Jake Zint’s observatory the one time. As for looking through Zint’s telescope and having private conversations with Zint about the Moon and the universe, they never happened....Mr. Zint’s story grew after I became well known,” Neil says.
  36. edifying
    enlightening or uplifting so as to encourage improvement
    Many accounts of Armstrong’s boyhood relate that Neil read about the Wrights as a first grader. That seems to be just another edifying myth.
  37. inaugural
    serving to set in motion
    According to a volunteer group in Warren, Ohio, that has worked through the early 2000s to turn the Warren airport site into a historical exhibit, the date of Neil’s inaugural flight was July 26, 1936.
  38. corrugated
    shaped into alternating parallel grooves and ridges
    The machine that took them up was a high-wing monoplane, the Ford Trimotor, nicknamed the “Tin Goose” for its skin of corrugated aluminum.
  39. presage
    indicate by signs
    Nonetheless, the incident serves as an allegory for his life—as an engineer, test pilot, and astronaut— presaging his strong preference for solitary challenges that task the mind more than the body...
  40. retractable
    capable of being pulled back
    While Armstrong’s friends drew biplanes with fixed landing gear, Neil drew low-wing monoplanes with retractable tricycle landing gear.
  41. satiate
    fill to satisfaction
    But the advantage was theoretical, as only ever more hours in the air would satiate his zest.
  42. predecessor
    one who precedes you in time
    As Armstrong entered college, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), NASA’s predecessor, along with the newly established U.S. Air Force, moved ahead ambitiously to construct new research facilities devoted to transonics, supersonics, and hypersonics (the speed regime, at around Mach 5, where the effects of aerodynamic heating became pronounced).
  43. stint
    an unbroken period of time during which you do something
    Armstrong’s time in the aeronautical engineering program at Purdue University spanned—including a three-year stint in the military—from September 1947 to January 1955.
  44. vector
    a quantity that has magnitude and direction
    Armstrong did not choose to pursue the new Theoretical Aeronautics option that premiered at Purdue in the fall of 1954, but he did, in his final semester of coursework, take its very challenging course on vector analysis.
  45. intermittent
    stopping and starting at irregular intervals
    He also had intermittent weekend responsibilities as an officer in the U.S. Naval Reserve, carpooling with his Purdue navy buddies to the Naval Air Station in Glenview, Illinois, north of Chicago, to fly F9F-6 jets.

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