CPA Australia, un sito dedicato ai revisori di conti, in cui ha raccontato numerosi dettagli della propria carriera e del proprio modo di vedere il mondo, con buona pace di chi insinua che Armstrong non concedeva interviste perché si vergognava di aver partecipato alla messinscena lunare.
A quanto mi risulta, si tratta dell'ultima intervista pubblicata prima della morte di Armstrong il 25 agosto scorso. Qui sotto ne trovate la trascrizione, realizzata con la collaborazione di Elena Albertini. Se vi interessa sponsorizzarne una traduzione italiana, fatemelo sapere nei commenti.
Prima parte, da 1:45 a 14:25
Link al video.
Malley: Neil Armstrong, a very warm welcome to Australia.
Armstrong: Thank you so much.
Malley: The words determination and destiny keep coming to me and the way in which your life's unfolded I'm not quite sure of the order of those at times, but certainly your first air show at two years old your dad took you to, your first airplane flight with your dad at seven, and your pilot's license at 15 tells me a lot about determination.
Armstrong: Yeah, I had become fascinated with the world of flight as an elementary school student and determined that somehow I wanted to be involved in that and as I learned more about aviation I thought: “Design – that would be the epitome of an aeronautical career, to be a designer”. And so that's what I strove for.
Malley: And in terms of your mom and dad, Stephen and Viola, your dad was a public servant in Ohio and traveled a lot in his role. What did your parents collectively teach you and give you as a foundation?
Armstrong: Well, they – my father was an auditor and he audited the books of county governments across the state where we lived, the state of Ohio, and so we were transient, my father moved the family along with him as he moved around the state while we were young. And I think they were very accommodating. They allowed me to do... pursue my own interests, and I'm forever grateful that they gave me that freedom. They didn't try to dictate to me what I should do or where I should go.
Malley: And your childhood, what fascinates me about it is, and we've had these conversations before about your rather heightened fear of death as a child and concern that if a pet died you didn't really want to confront it, is not necessarily what would appear to be the man who would take all the risks he took in adult life. I mean that's quite a fascinating...
Armstrong: Well, I think many younger people are uncomfortable with the thought of death, whether it be themselves, their relatives or their pets, and I've shared that uneasiness about facing the reality of death and it took me some years to sort of circumvent that concern.
Malley: So then of course, Neil, you flew 78 missions in the Korean War and again took some chances. What are your reflections on the risks you had to bear, you and your colleagues?
Armstrong: The risks in combat are substantial, and I think in general they are higher risks than I faced in my test pilot work or in my astronaut work. And the consequences are severe. And there is a good side and a bad side. The bad side is that you lose colleagues, and that's painful. The good side is you have – you create very strong bonds with your colleagues that survive, and those bonds exist throughout your lifetime. And I value those experiences very highly because they built a lot of character, they built a lot of backbone and you were a better person for having learned to endure those – that environment, that situation, and those risks.
Malley: So, Neil, your test pilot career was, you know, as everything else in your career a distinguished one. But tell me what a test pilot feels and what it does feel like to get in those jets as you did so often: the exhilaration, the moment, the responsibility?
Armstrong: The test pilot is solving problems. He is looking for inadequacies or shortcomings or barriers to substantial safety and increasing performance in flight, and his job is to identify those problems and assist in finding a solution. So it's a problem-solving job, and you're always working with the unknowns. And I found that a fascinating part of my career path. I really enjoyed the opportunity to contribute in some way to the solution of problems. The history of humanity has been, you know, slowly increasing the boundaries of knowledge and knowing more and more and more and feel comfortable inside there, but at the edges it's always going to be a challenge.
Malley: Yeah, absolutely. And to those edges, your first flight, one of your first flights in the B-29... Now being an accountant, I can do the numbers, and if one engine out of four is working I'd be worried – and that's without any pilot experience. What happened that day, and how did you work through the problems?
Armstrong: I was a pilot, one of the two pilots of the B-29 carrying a rocket aircraft to altitude where we would release the airplane and it would go doing the testing and we were just providing the service – get the rocket airplane up to a starting point. And we were somewhere up above 30,000 feet when the governor on one of the propellers failed and the propeller started running away – that is, going faster and faster and faster. And of course at some point in time it's going to explode. And so we had the choice of either slowing down to try to slow down the propeller or speeding up so that we could drop the rocket. We chose the latter, dropped the rocket and almost instantaneously thereafter the propeller exploded and blades cut through the – it was the right... far right engine – cut through the number three engine, cut through the fuselage and the number two engine, and left only the number one engine running. That's an uncomfortable position, one out of four. But fortunately we had a lot of altitude and we had a big dry lake bed not too far away where we could land so we could make a very gentle – very gentle turns and keep the power back and sort of make a gliding approach into the landing area. The second pilot, his control cables had been cut by the propeller, so his controls were of no use whatever. I still had control. so I was flying the airplane and he was doing the thinking (laughs). And when we got to the ground and looked at the airplane afterwards, we found my cables had been cut too, but there were still a few strands of the cable left. So we were very fortunate to have survived that situation.
Malley: Extraordinary. And look, another example, I guess, was in the lunar training, when you had to eject from the rocket within seconds of your life, as I understand it. Take us through that.
Armstrong: Well, we needed something to simulate landing on the moon. The moon has no atmosphere, so you're flying in a vacuum, and the gravity is much lower, so the characteristics of the flying machine in that environment are very different than they are here on Earth. And we felt we had to understand those variations and be able to feel comfortable in flying the lunar module to the surface of the moon in the actual conditions. So this device did provide very good training and experience in that mode. Unfortunately it was a complicated machine with a lot of different rockets and wires and claptrap of all this – and consequently it was subject to malfunction. And one of these malfunctions snapped on me one day and I lost my control system, and you know pretty quickly that's it's time to go and part company with your friend. And I did that and the ejection seat worked very well, fortunately, and I bit my tongue and that was the only real damage.
Malley: And as I understand it, as the legend goes, you know – that's a term I like using when I speak with you – you basically just went back to work.
Armstrong: Well, yeah, there was work to be done back at the office and so I thought I'd better go get on with it.
Malley: I'm trying to line that up with the modern era of occupational health and safety, and it's just not working for me at the moment, Neil, that's extraordinary. We've got some footage that I want to play to you: John F. Kennedy was speaking about the mission and about the vision. This was early in the sixties.
Kennedy: ...but why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask, why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas? We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard. Because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills. Because that challenge is one that we're willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others too.
Malley: The extraordinary time in the US at that time, you had the president of that ilk, you had politics, the administration, science, the community all on song for this vision, all on song for that plan. What was that like?
Armstrong: Well, you have to appreciate the context. The Soviet Union had successfully put firstly an artificial satellite into space and secondly put a man into orbit around the Earth. We were trailing. We had put only one flight, Alan Shepard, on a short 20-minute suborbital flight of about a hundred miles altitude and back down into the ocean. Never had a person in orbit and now the president was challenging us to go to the moon. The gap between 20 minutes, a 20 minutes up and down a flight and going to the moon, was something that was almost beyond belief, technically. But NASA was a new organization only about four years old at that point. It had done a lot of thinking about this, and they identified the lunar landing as perhaps the only way we could catch up with the Soviet Union. And as the President said, we were going to get in this game. He was saying, “This is a new ocean around us. This is the new ocean and we must sail upon it and we must be a leader on it”. And that caught people's imagination, because at that time we had the ideological competition between East and West and concerns about the future of all humanity on Earth, so it was a very big thing, not just technically, it was sociologically a very big thing and the challenge was enormous. So to be able to get the agreement of not only the government but the will of the people to go along with that idea was quite striking.
Le altre parti seguiranno quando possibile.