Augustana College printing logo

When Neil Armstrong landed at Augustana

Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2012

"Mr. Armstrong, why would you come to a place like Augustana?" asked a reporter.

"When I saw the program that was planned and the speakers who were scheduled to appear, and thought about all the effort that had gone into this program to involve the students, faculty and surrounding community, I just wanted to be a part of it," said Neil Alden Armstrong in February 1972.

Less than three years earlier, Armstrong had become the first human being to set foot on the moon. The Apollo 11 commander died last week at the age of 82.

He was the foremost among several noted figures who were a part of the Seminar on Space Exploration held at Augustana in February 1972. In 1969, the same year that a Saturn V rocket thrust Apollo 11 towards the moon, Augustana threw open the doors to its new John Deere Planetarium and Carl Gamble Observatory. The late Dr. Harry Nelson,  planetarium director, thought a seminar on space exploration would be a good way to celebrate the new facility. Dr. Roald Fryxell '56, one of the first scientists to examine the rock samples brought back by Apollo 11, helped organize the event.

Nelson's widow, Lillian, remembered the event this week in an interview with The Dispatch and Rock Island Argus. An article written for an Augustana publication after the event gives a hint at the inspiration Armstrong offered to students:

"There was an element of tension expressed everywhere; students, staff, townspeople and visitors from long distances filled the auditorium to overflowing...  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 ... triggered a standing ovation." (See full text)


Neil Armstrong signs autographs at the Seminar on Space Exploration in 1972. (<a href="http://www.augustana.edu/images/news/2012/armstrong/autographs_large.jpg" target="_blank">See full-sized image</a>) Photo courtesy Augustana Special Collections.
Neil Armstrong is mobbed in Centennial Hall by students seeking an autograph in 1972.  Photo courtesy Augustana Special Collections.
Neil Armstrong (third from left) is applauded at Centennial Hall. Also in the group are Dr. Harry Nelson (second from left), James Van Allen (third from right) and Dr. Fritiof Fryxell (far right).  (<a href="http://www.augustana.edu/images/news/2012/armstrong/centennial_large.jpg" target="_blank">See full-sized image</a>)  Photo courtesy Augustana Special Collections.
(<a href="http://www.augustana.edu/images/news/2012/armstrong/doorway_large.jpg" target="_blank">See full-sized image</a>)  Photo courtesy Augustana Special Collections.
A group shot in the planetarium includes Neil Armstrong (second from left), Dr. Harry Nelson (far left), and Dr. Fritiof Fryxell (second from right).  (<a href="http://www.augustana.edu/images/news/2012/armstrong/group_large.jpg" target="_blank">See full-sized image</a>)  Photo courtesy Augustana Special Collections.
<a href="http://http://www.augustana.edu/x17978.xml">Fritioff Fryxell</a> and Neil Armstrong.  Fryxell chaired the sciences division at Augustana from 1946 to 1951 and was the curator for many years of the geology museum, now named the Fryxell Geology Museum in his honor. His son, <a href="http://www.augustana.edu/x18302.xml">Roald</a>, helped to organize the seminar and was one of the first scientists to examine moon rocks brought back by Apollo 11.  (<a href="http://www.augustana.edu/images/news/2012/armstrong/fryxell_large.jpg" target="_blank">See full-sized image</a>)  Photo courtesy Augustana Special Collections.
Neil Armstrong and James Van Allen answer questions. Van Allen was a space scientist at the University of Iowa. The Van Allen radiation belts were named after him. At far left are C.W. Sorensen, then Augustana president, and Harry Nelson,  director of the John Deere Planetarium and Gamble Observatory. (<a href="http://www.augustana.edu/images/news/2012/armstrong/vanallen_large.jpg" target="_blank">See full-sized image</a>)  Photo courtesy Augustana Special Collections.
Neil Armstrong at the podium in Centennial Hall. (<a href="http://www.augustana.edu/images/news/2012/armstrong/podium_large.jpg" target="_blank">See full-sized image</a>)  Photo courtesy Augustana Special Collections.
The cover of a commemorative booklet published by Augustana after the Seminar on Space Exploration shows gabbro rock collected at the Sea of Tranquility on the Moon by Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin. The thin section of Apollo 11 Lunar sample 10003 is a thin section illuminated by polarized light. The original description of it was done by the Preliminary Examination Team, which included Dr. Roald Fryxell '56, at the Lunar Receiving Laboratory at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. (Photo courtesy NASA)