Armstrong’s Close Call

On May 6, 1968, more than a year before his moon landing, Neil Armstrong had a narrow escape in the lunar landing research vehicle (LLRV) at Ellington Air Force Base near Houston, as seen in this silent film clip. On a simulated lunar descent, leaking propellant caused a total failure of his flight controls and forced an ejection. His only injury was a hard tongue bite. 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.” Video: NASA (1:32)