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Full Coverage: 'First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong' by James Hansen

Armstrong biographer visits hometowns

by John McGauley, Special to collectSPACE

On the left: "First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong" author Jim Hansen addresses an audience in his hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana. At right: Hansen signs copies of his book in Wapakoneta, Ohio, the hometown of his book's subject. (John McGauley)
October 31, 2005

— Herman Melville, the author of "Moby Dick," once wrote that "life's a voyage that is homeward bound." James Hansen, the author of "First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong," proved Melville right with two recent stops on his nationwide book tour.

Hansen found himself in not one but two hometowns last week that hold important places in his life and career: his hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana, and the place that has long been known as Armstrong's hometown, Wapakoneta, Ohio.

After making the rounds of bookstores and lecture halls since "First Man," the first-ever authorized biography of Armstrong, was released on October 18, Hansen came home to the midwest.

Hansen appeared at the Barnes & Noble Booksellers store in Fort Wayne on October 27, for a book-signing. A pre-signing reception was put together by his sister, Carol Busse, for the many family and friends of Hansen's who still live in the Fort Wayne area.

Brothers and sisters, cousins, in-laws, old high school friends and classmates and even the owner of a bowling alley Hansen frequented as a boy showed up for his night in the hometown spotlight. The store ordered 100 books and ran out early. Hansen's wife Peggy said the Fort Wayne signing was the biggest book store turnout to that point in the tour.

Armstrong biographer James Hansen (center) pauses signing copies of his book, "First Man," as his wife Peggy shakes hands with Gary Blumenshine, Hansen's college history professor, at an event held in Fort Wayne, Indiana. (John McGauley)

Waiting in line at one point, unbeknownst to Hansen, was an old college professor, Dr. Gary Blumenshine, part of a duo of professors that Hansen credits with guiding him into a career as a historian. As he made his way through the line, his copy of "First Man" clutched tightly in hand, Blumenshine talked proudly to a stranger in line behind him of his connection to Hansen.

When Blumenshine came to the head of the line, Hansen's face lit up and he shot to his feet and wrapped his teacher in the kind of hug reserved for dear friends.

"I think he's elated," Busse said of the hometown greeting Hansen received. "I know when he comes here, he feels like he's at home. To see all these people... I know he's thrilled."

Although he has gone far since leaving Fort Wayne after college, Hansen has never forgotten about his hometown. He personally lobbied his publisher, Simon & Schuster, to put Fort Wayne on his 20-city national tour. His book tour came to Fort Wayne before Wapakoneta, Houston, Washington, D.C., and before the Kennedy Space Center.

At times the event took on the air of a family reunion, with proud, beaming relatives there to hear first hand about the project that Hansen himself characterizes as the crown jewel in his career. Hansen took his time with each person, writing something personal in almost every book.

"Fort Wayne is about home," Hansen said.

Two days later, Hansen was in Wapakoneta for a day of book signings and lectures at a museum there dedicated to Armstrong's life and career.

During one of the three packed presentations Hansen gave at the Neil Armstrong Air and Space Museum, he looked around at a roomful of people in their 50s, 60s and 70s and noted that two-thirds of the world's population was born after the flight of Apollo 11.

The moonwalkers themselves, he added, today range in age from 71 to 75, Armstrong being one of the oldest at 75. The aging of the astronauts, as well as of the people who thrilled at their exploits back home, was at the top of the list of reasons for writing "First Man," Hansen told the audience.

"To me, the loss of [Armstrong's] story would have been a real loss," he said. "I just hate the idea of losing a life story."

In Wapakoneta, the memories of Armstrong's family, his boyhood and his exploits as an aviator and an astronaut may have faded a little, but they are still alive and well.

The Armstrong museum is located on Apollo Drive. Neil Armstrong Airport still operates in nearby New Knoxville, and you can still find the Apollo Travel Service on Willipie Street in downtown Wapakoneta. But a large mural of Armstrong that once adorned a storefront on Auglaize Street, a few blocks away, has been mostly painted over, leaving only a spacesuit boot.

Armstrong's sister, June Armstrong Hoffman, still owns the family farm near town and comes back occasionally for extended visits. Along with Armstrong's brother Dean and son Rick, June came back to Wapakoneta for an invitation-only reception for Hansen at the museum on Friday night, sponsored by the Ohio Historical Society. But as has been the case so often with events centered on Armstrong, the 'first man' himself did not attend.

The release of "First Man" has given the town of 9,500 a chance to relive the excitement of 1969 all over again, said Rebecca Macwhinney, manager of the Armstrong Museum.

"It's definitely been the talk of the town," she said. "It was a homecoming of sorts, not just for Wapak, but for the surrounding area. It brought back that sense of pride."

Hansen's three appearances on Saturday filled the museum's 80-seat theater to capacity. Of the 500 books the museum ordered, 250 had been sold by Saturday morning and the rest were nearly gone by the end of the day. Hansen signed books for hundreds of people, ranging from the simply curious to Armstrong's family friends and neighbors.

A boyhood friend of Armstrong's, Kotcho Solacoff, who as a sixth-grader in 1943 belonged to the same Upper Sandusky (Ohio) Boy Scout troop as the future astronaut, was there to get a book signed and to visit with Hansen, who interviewed Solacoff for "First Man." Another man, a spaceflight history enthusiast with no connection to the astronaut, drove all the way from Pittsburgh, Pa., to meet the author and get a signed book.

Cousins and classmates of Armstrong's and even people who still work the Armstrong family farm came to see Hansen and get their copies of "First Man" signed. Many of the people he met came to the parades following Armstrong's flights aboard Gemini 8 and Apollo 11 and wanted to relive that nostalgia for a little while once again, Hansen said.

"It was an important place for me to go for different reasons," Hansen said. "This part of the country, since it is home and where I went to school, I feel rooted here."

Visor lifted on astronaut's life in 'First Man'

Review by Robert Pearlman

October 18, 2005

— In a powerful bit of foreshadowing, the moment that made Neil Armstrong famous came at a time when his face was blocked by a reflective visor and no clear photographs of him were taken.

In fact, the only visual records of his becoming the first human to walk on the moon are a low quality black and white television transmission and a 16 milimeter color film taken from afar and above.

Much the same could be said to describe the view Neil Armstrong has allowed the public into his life since that day in July 1969.

Mislabeled as a recluse by the general public and press, Armstrong didn't retract from the world; rather, he followed his moonwalk with a relatively quick return to normal life instead of the role as a celebrity many had expected and some of his peers had embraced.

After more than 35 years of avoiding public introspection, it may have also been assumed that Armstrong was as happy living out his rest of his time on earth with just as little fanfare. It's that very reason why "First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong" by James Hansen is so remarkable.

Armstrong didn't just authorize a biography being written, as if not caring how it ultimately read, rather he opened his entire life to Hansen, from the 50 hours of interviews he took part in, to encouraging his friends, family and colleagues to cooperate.

The result is a book that not only explains the "first" in its title — as other books about the Apollo program have done before — but also the "man" that was behind the visor, a first in its own right.

Hansen uses the unprecendented access he had gained to offer a comprehensive account of Armstrong's journey from his youth to naval aviator, research pilot to astronaut to ultimately an icon and family man. The level of detail surpasses at times what one would expect from even the most researched of profiles.

For example, while discussing Armstrong's training with the Navy, Hansen shares not only the memories of class mates but performance records from individual flights or "hops." "July 8 [1949] (A-2): Average to above. Student looks around very good & appears to be at ease. Applies instructions above average."

Hansen uses this approach — citing personal documents — whenever possible, granting the reader access to papers generally held as private. This extends to such disparate themes as Armstrong's relationship with his parents to the details of his two flights into space. For the average biographical subject, this insight would amend previously disclosed details; for Armstrong, these offer fresh light on full passages of the moonwalker's life. The reader learns how others viewed Armstrong at the time of the event(s), offering the untainted perspective that apparently became common after Armstrong landed on the moon.

Indeed, one of the most fascinating aspects of "First Man" is how much time is spent correcting misconceptions or even outright lies about Armstrong's dealings with others. More than a few people who knew Armstrong — and a few who didn't — felt compelled to take credit for his moonwalk regardless if the facts supported such. From the neighbor who claimed to share private evenings studying the moon through a telescope with young Neil (he didn't) to the town that identified itself as his hometown (it wasn't), there was apparently no shortage of people who wanted a share in Armstrong's fame.

An entire closing chapter is devoted to Armstrong's role as an icon. From autograph requests to his adoption by religions (and the non-religious alike), Hansen paints the picture of a man being appropriated from all sides. By the time this section closes, readers gain an appreciation for the reluctance of Armstrong today to be more accessible.

Throughout "First Man," Hansen interjects Armstrong's own reflections, which while discussing his astronauts years, fits the final missing piece into a series of well told tales.

While Armstrong's first mission, Gemini 8 and its inflight emergency have been recounted before (most recently by Armstrong's crewmate David Scott, in his own biography), Hansen presents its effect on Armstrong for the first time. Readers learn that while the world celebrated his return, Armstrong privately struggled with a mission that was cut short. Hansen raises the beliefs by some astronauts that Armstrong made the wrong choices during flight and was at fault; if they only knew of his own privately-held regrets at the time.

Armstrong's second, last and most famous mission — his Apollo 11 landing on the moon — might have also been the least interesting in "First Man" on the account that its been described so many times that one might assume there is nothing more to add. Hansen's version is engaging, as he alternates between the transcripts from the flight, others' memories (including Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins) and Armstrong's own recollections. There are even a few new, not-so-minor details to be learned, including why and how Armstrong became the 'first man' to step onto the surface and who, other than Aldrin, might just have been second.

In the end though, the most powerful stories told in "First Man" take place on the ground, as Hansen delves into the death of Armstrong's daughter Karen and his divorce from his first wife Janet. Perhaps because of their extremely personal nature, or pehaps because they offer a glimpse of Armstrong's humanity these sections stand out among the book's 700 pages. They serve to remind readers that Armstrong is first a man.

At the end of the last millennium, historians and futurists alike suggested that the only event to be remembered of the past 1000 years in 1000 years time would be the first moon landing. The only person to be remembered, Neil A. Armstrong. Thanks to Hansen, future historians will know more about the man than the fact he was first.

Reviewer's disclaimer: Robert Pearlman was interviewed by James Hansen and is quoted in "First Man."

Armstrong biographer launches book tour

October 17, 2005

— Having traced Neil Armstrong's life on paper, biographer James Hansen is preparing to depart on a tour that will weave his own history with that of the first moonwalker.

On Tuesday, as copies of "First Man: The Life of Neil Armstrong" (Simon & Schuster) hit bookstores' shelves nationwide, Hansen begins his 20-city promotional tour that includes stops in the astronaut's hometown, his own hometown, NASA centers, and communities from the life of the man that he researched for three years.

Hansen's first public book signing will be held Tuesday at Books-A-Million book store in Auburn, Alabama, where he currently lives. Later in the week, Hansen will twice visit Auburn University, where he works as a history professor.

The following Tuesday, Hansen will be in Cleveland, Ohio near the NASA center that gave Armstrong his first job at the space agency. He'll follow that the next day at Purdue Unversity, the astronaut's alma matter.

Hansen's schedule then has him conducting back-to-back hometown appearances. On October 27, the author visits Fort Wayne, Indiana, where his passion for history began on a neighborhood golf course. The following day, Hansen is in Wapakoneta, Ohio, the town that has taken credit for Armstrong's hometown (though in "First Man," Armstrong is quoted as describing Wapakoneta as "the town where my parents lived"). A public book signing will be held October 29 at the Armstrong Air and Space Museum (ironically its another location that the astronaut takes exception with in the biography).

Though Armstrong is not expected to join Hansen on any of the stops along the tour, several of the astronaut's prior colleagues will make appearances. When Hansen arrives in California near the base where Armstrong flew the X-15 as a NASA research pilot, fellow flyers William Dana and Stanley Butchart will participate with the author in a panel sharing "local stories from the career of Neil Armstrong".

Similarly, at the San Diego Aerospace Museum, Hansen will appear with two of Armstrong's Korean War squadron mates, VF-51 members "Hersh" Gott and Ken Kramer for a screening of "The Bridges at Toko-Ri."

Hansen's schedule also includes Kennedy Space Center, where Armstrong launched to the moon; Houston, Texas, home to Mission Control and where Armstrong trained for space; Seattle, Washington and Washington, DC.

The following are the public events where James Hansen is scheduled to appear, courtesy Simon & Schuster. This list will be updated as information merits.

Date/Time Location Event Details
October 18
Opelika Road
Auburn, Alabama
Book signing
October 19
Ralph B. Draughon Library
Auburn University
Auburn, Alabama
Book signing
October 20
Books & Company
Birmingham, Alabama
Book signing
October 21
Jule Collins Smith Museum
Auburn University
Auburn, Alabama
Book signing
October 25
Great Lakes Science Center
Cleveland, Ohio
Book signing
October 26
Fowler Hall, Stewart Center
Purdue University
West Lafayette, Indiana
Lecture and book signing
October 27
Barnes & Noble Booksellers
Fort Wayne, Indiana
Lecture and book signing
October 29
Armstrong Air & Space Museum
Wapakoneta, Ohio
Lecture and book signing
November 8
Louisville Public Library
Louisville, Kentucky
Lecture and book signing
November 9
Books & Company
Dayton, Ohio
Book signing
November 10
Ohio Historical Society
Columbus, Ohio
Lecture and book signing
November 11
Joseph-Beth Booksellers
Cincinnati, Ohio
Book signing
November 12
Freeman Memorial Library
Houston, Texas
Lecture and book signing (presented by collectSPACE)
November 12
Rocket Town
Webster, Texas
Book signing
November 15
Frontiers of Flight Museum
Dallas, Texas
Lecture and book signing
November 16
Pacific Science Center
Seattle, Washington
Lecture and book signing
November 17
Essex House
Lancaster, California
Panel Discussion "Above the High Desert: Local Stories from the Career of Neil Armstrong" with William Dana and Stanley Butchart
November 19
San Diego Aerospace Museum
San Diego, California
Panel Discussion with VF-51 members "Hersh" Gott and Ken Kramer and screening of "The Bridges at Toko-Ri"
November 20
Reuben Fleet Science Center
San Diego, California
Book signing
November 30
Olsson's Books and Records
Washington, DC
Book signing
December 3
Kennedy Space Center
Visitor Complex, Florida
Book signing

Discovering the man behind the 'First Man'

by John McGauley, Special to collectSPACE

Neil Armstrong (right) poses with his authorized biographer James Hansen, author of "First Man," in 2004. (James Hansen)
October 3, 2005

— For much of the world, the flight of Apollo 11 has been a distant memory — an adventure consigned to pages of history — for 35 years. Yet even with manned spaceflight confined to earth orbit since the 1980s, the romance of the Apollo missions has never died.

A new generation of space buffs has been drawn to the lunar landing saga by movies and books written by and about the astronauts, most now in their 70s, who walked on the moon. But until now, one important piece of the historical puzzle, the life story of the first man to walk there, has been conspicuously missing.

In the generation that has passed since his "giant leap" into immortality, Neil Armstrong has been the living example of a paradox. The man whose first footsteps on another world were a seminal event in human history has kept largely to himself in the years since Apollo 11 made him a household name, perhaps the most famous name in modern history.

That is all about to change, thanks to James Hansen, an Auburn University history professor who grew up in Indiana never knowing how far his love for golf and passion for the past would take him. In 2002, Armstrong signed off on a project he had never agreed to before — a definitive telling of his life story that Hansen would write, and in which Armstrong, his family and many of the great names in air and space exploration would participate.

The resulting book, "First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong," arrives on store shelves Oct. 18. Published by Simon & Schuster, the movie rights to "First Man" have already been sold to Warner Brothers and Oscar-winning actor/director Clint Eastwood.

For Hansen, 53, "First Man" is the undisputed highlight of a nearly 25-year career chronicling the history of aerospace and spaceflight. He wonders where his career might go next, but for the time being is focused on a nationwide, 10-city book tour and a nationwide PR extravaganza that will see his book spotlighted across the media landscape.

The zenith of the media blitz will be a Nov. 7 feature by Ed Bradley on CBS' "60 Minutes". Preliminary plans call for interviews with Armstrong to be shot in "more than one historic venue," Hansen said. It is not yet known whether Hansen himself will be part of the "60 Minutes" piece.

"In a way it's kind of my own moon landing," Hansen said during an interview in June at his home near the Auburn campus, in east-central Alabama. "It's hard to top this. I don't think I can top it."

That someone has written a book about Armstrong's life is not surprising. His name is often mentioned in the same breath as those of Charles Lindbergh and Christopher Columbus. That Armstrong helped with the book, giving Hansen more than 50 hours of in-depth interviews, is the true triumph in what Hansen's book has accomplished.

While those who know him personally hate the term, Armstrong, 75, has been described as something of a recluse since Apollo 11 returned to Earth. He resigned from NASA just two years later to teach aeronautical engineering at the University of Cincinnati. But the crush of acclaim that followed him home from the moon never faded away.

Armstrong's career as an astronaut and his travails as an icon are well documented, but his life's story is exactly the opposite. In the years after he walked on the moon, some of literature's biggest names — Stephen Ambrose and James Michener among them — pursued Armstrong's biography with no success.

So how is it that a history professor who grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, well known in scholarly circles but virtually unknown in popular publishing, landed the story of one of the world's most famous explorers? He credits persistence, a unique point of view and a little prodding from his students.

Hansen earned a Master's degree and a Ph.D. from Ohio State University. While still an undergraduate back in Indiana, he considered law school. But two of his history professors, Gary Blumenshine and Ralph Violette, convinced Hansen to keep pursuing a lifelong love of history. The professors took a special interest in him and convinced him to pursue graduate school, even though jobs in teaching and scholarly research were scarce at the time.

"He was the best student we've ever had," Blumenshine said. "We encouraged Jim not to be discouraged about the possibility of a career in academics, and that he had a real chance of success."

Hansen's lifelong love of the past began not in the classroom, but on a golf course in his hometown. In 1961, when Hansen was nine years old, his father, Irwin, died, and his mother, Grace had to take a job. Young Jim began spending summers at Fairview Golf Course, where he spent hours golfing with and talking to many veterans of World War II. His father served in the Army Signal Corps during the war, so he absorbed the stories of his golfing companions with eager fascination. As they walked from one hole to the next, he "interviewed" these men about the war, about their lives and about the Great Depression.

"I think I was just trying to find my father," Hansen said. "I hadn't been able to ask him these questions."

After Hansen began a four-year fellowship at Ohio State, he met yet another professor, June Fullmer, whose influence gave his career its most important nudge. Hansen took Fullmer's course in the history of the scientific revolution and from there, his interests turned more and more toward science history.

In 1981, while still at Ohio State working on his doctorate, Hansen got the call that would change his life. Duke University Professor Alex Roland, at the time a historian with NASA's History Office called to offer him a job writing about the early work in aeronautics done at the agency's Langley Research Center. The resulting book, "Engineer In Charge, A History of the Langley Aeronautical Laboratory," was published in 1987.

Roland had gotten Hansen's name through a colleague of Fullmer's, Merritt Roe Smith, a professor of history at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"I like to tell people that I discovered (Hansen)," Roland said. "Alas, he was already discovered when I first met him. He is an excellent historian who has made an enviable reputation for himself."

To call Hansen "accomplished" in his field is an understatement. His resume stretches for 18 pages, including dozens of books, articles, professional honors and awards. Including "First Man," Hansen has authored or co-written nine books, one of which, entitled "Spaceflight Revolution," was nominated by NASA for the Pulitzer Prize in 1995.

"First Man" may not be far behind for a similar honor. Simon & Schuster freely compares the impact of "First Man" with that of 1999 Pulitzer Prize winner "Lindbergh," which traced the life of Charles Lindbergh, the first man to fly across the Atlantic.

"Hansen's unprecedented access to private documents, interviews with more than 125 subjects... and unpublished sources yield the first in-depth analysis of this elusive American celebrity still renowned the world over," the publisher said in its fall 2005 catalog.

James Hansen stands aside the research he amassed researching "First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong." (James Hansen)

According to MIT's Smith, Hansen has a rare combination of skills that make a project like "First Man" possible. He is both a deep researcher and a perceptive writer, Smith said, making it possible for him to sift out relevant material from mountains of raw facts.

"Some people can do that relatively easily and others cannot," Smith said. "You get overwhelmed with the amount of material and you can't put pen to paper."

After 20 years of writing about the history of spaceflight and aerospace technology, Hansen wanted to write a biography of someone who had been an engineer or a pilot and who had crossed over between engineering and science. About a year before he first contacted Armstrong, he mentioned the idea of writing the moonwalker's life story to a group of his graduate students who began encouraging him to pursue the idea.

"I was ready to do a biography," Hansen said. "But obviously, I was challenged by the daunting prospect of getting him to do it. I had no real confidence. There was nothing about my approach that I thought would convince him."

But there was something unique about Hansen's credentials, if not his approach. Over his career, Hansen had written more about the technology and science advances brought about by air and space exploration, and not so much about the romance and lore.

He first wrote to Armstrong (after getting his address from a historian colleague that Hansen calls "kind of my Deep Throat") in 2000 and got a generic response back from Armstrong saying that he was too busy to participate. A few months later, Hansen wrote again, sending a packet of his books and articles.

One of the books caught Armstrong's eye. The book, "From the Ground Up: The Autobiography of an Aeronautical Engineer," was about an aircraft designer, Fred Weick, with whom the ex-astronaut was familiar. Armstrong liked the content and tone of the book and agreed to sit down with Hansen to talk about writing his own biography.

"He wanted it to be a scholarly book," Hansen said. "I think if I had been a commercial writer, he would not have paid much attention. He's not interested in feature stories about him."

Armstrong, Hansen and Armstrong's wife Carol first met in the early fall of 2001, shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks, and talked all afternoon about the direction the project might take. Hansen's credentials were not the only thing that left Armstrong feeling good. They even talked about their shared Midwestern roots. Armstrong was an Ohioan who went to college in Indiana; Hansen was a Hoosier who went to college in Ohio.

Over the next few months, without any lawyers involved, Armstrong and Hansen worked out a contract that both signed in June 2002. Armstrong is personally receiving no money from the project, Hansen said. Armstrong's share of book royalties will go toward the construction of a new engineering building at his alma mater, Purdue University.

Hansen's "golden ticket," a letter signed by Armstrong blessing his research and encouraging others to help wherever possible. (James Hansen)

In August 2002, Armstrong put his rare signature on Hansen's golden ticket into the world of space history. It was a letter blessing Hansen's research and encouraging others to help him wherever possible. "[Hansen] has a deep and abiding interest in the history of flight," Armstrong wrote. "He has known many of the great creative individuals who made their mark in the aviation and space progress of the 20th century."

Hansen met even more of those great individuals during his research for "First Man," amassing a staggering archive of 125 interviews, including conversations with Armstrong's Apollo crewmates and many other astronauts, men he flew with in the Korean War, his first wife, his prom date and even the man who taught Armstrong to fly as a teenager. But the information flow was not always one way.

In 1962, Armstrong's parents appeared on the program "I've Got A Secret" on the day their son was chosen to be an astronaut. Armstrong had been unable to catch the live broadcast, and never saw the program until Hansen showed it to him after getting a copy sent to him unexpectedly by a collector of television programs. In the master bedroom of Armstrong's Ohio home, 40 years after it aired, Hansen showed him the tape. The reserved Armstrong, sitting at the foot of the bed, said little, but a great warm smile spread across his face.

Hansen and his wife, Peggy, have developed a close relationship with Armstrong and his second wife, Carol, during the writing of the book. They have spent enough time together that Hansen knows the moonwalker's favorite flavor of ice cream (raspberry chocolate chip). Peggy Hansen and Carol Armstrong take walks and go to movies together during the Hansens' trips to Ohio to work on the book. The couples traveled to California for a stay at Clint Eastwood's golf resort, Tehama, where they discussed Eastwood's plans for making a movie out of the book.

"To be playing in a threesome with Neil Armstrong and Clint Eastwood was pretty incredible," Hansen said with a smile. "For Peggy and I to be part of that was pretty heady stuff."

While they may be friends after years of working together on "First Man," Hansen still holds Armstrong's sensitivity in absolute regard. The only autograph Hansen has ever asked for is on the contract they signed three years ago. The men had their first photograph taken together this past July.

He also is not allowing friendship with Armstrong to color his writing or dilute the book's value to history. The book is an honest telling of the astronaut's life story, ("warts and all," Hansen adds) that will present Armstrong as a complicated, three-dimensional man thrust reluctantly into immortality.

"This is an authorized biography, and a lot of readers may suspect that that means that it will treat Neil with kid gloves," Hansen said. "That's not the case. Neil gave me complete freedom of interpretation and analysis. All he wanted to do was have input to make sure my facts were straight."

The book even contains a potentially unsettling surprise for Armstrong's hometown of Wapakoneta, Ohio. "First Man" debunks a myth that became so popular that an "artifact" from the story is enshrined there in the Auglaize County (Ohio) Museum.

Jim Hansen on his campus at Auburn University. (James Hansen)

Hansen took two years off from the Auburn history department, which he once served as chair, to write the book, and began teaching full-time again in fall 2004. In June, on summer break, he was back at work refining the final drafts of "First Man," working with Armstrong and a New York editor. Careful editing took the original 1,200 page manuscript (in which Armstrong was not born until page 80) to a finished book of 600 pages.

While Hansen has made the rare transition between academia and the world of popular culture, his focus remains where it has always been — on preserving history for generations to come.

"My final obligation is not to Neil... it's not to any of the historical actors, it's to posterity," Hansen said. "It's to try to tell the story as genuinely and as profoundly as I can for the benefit of readers who don't know the history and for readers who are going to come across this book hundreds of years from now."

Armstrong bio to land in stores Oct. '05

December 4, 2004

— Simon & Schuster, Inc. has updated their book catalog to include "First Man, The Life of Neil A. Armstrong," the authorized biography by James Hansen, setting a release date of October 2005. The 608 page hardcover will include 16 pages of black-and-white photographs and will retail for a list price of $30.00.

Simon & Schuster describes "First Man" as follows:

"What A. Scott Berg did for the life of Charles A. Lindbergh, James R. Hansen does for Neil A. Armstrong in the first and only definitive, authorized biography of one of America's most celebrated heroes.

"On July 20, 1969, the world stood still to watch thirty-eight-year-old American astronaut Neil Armstrong become the first person ever to step on the surface of another heavenly body. When he returned to earth, Armstrong was honored and celebrated for his monumental achievement. He was also — as James Hansen reveals in this fascinating and important biography — misunderstood. Armstrong's accomplishments as engineer, test pilot, and astronaut have long been a matter of record, but Hansen's unprecedented access to private documents, interviews with more than 125 subjects (including more than fifty hours of interviews with Armstrong himself and twelve hours with his first wife Janet), and unpublished sources yield the first in-depth analysis of this elusive American celebrity.

"In a riveting narrative filled with revelations, Hansen vividly recreates Armstrong's career in flying, from the heights of honor and recognition earned as naval aviator, test pilot, and astronaut to the dear personal price paid by Armstrong — and even more so by his wife and children — for his dedication to his storied vocation.

"Hansen addresses the rumors that have swirled around Armstrong for thirty-six years and provides a penetrating exploration of American hero worship — of astronauts and of Armstrong, in particular. In "First Man," the personal, technological, epic, and iconic blend to form the portrait of a great but reluctant hero who will forever be known as history's most famous space traveler.

"James R. Hansen is a professor of history at Auburn University. A former historian for NASA, Hansen is author of eight books on the history of aerospace. He lives in Auburn, Alabama."

Simon & Schuster to publish 'First Man'

April 16, 2003

— An authorized biography of Neil Armstrong has been acquired by Simon & Schuster. "First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong," is being written by historian James Hansen, who was selected by Armstrong as his biographer. Hansen, who has the exclusive access to Armstrong's personal archives, is expected to complete the book in late 2004, for 2005 publication.

"First Man" will trace Armstrong's life from his boyhood to his time as a Korean War fighter pilot through his experiences in the space program and his historic place as the first man to set foot on the moon in 1969 and up to the current day. Armstrong will make selected appearances in association with the release of the book.

Hansen, a Professor of History at Auburn University in Auburn, AL, who specializes in the history of science and technology, commented: "It's been nearly 34 years since the first moon landing. It's an honor, but also a serious responsibility, to be the person Neil has sanctioned to put his whole story together finally and explain to the world who this man really is."

Hansen's published books include "Spaceflight Revolution: NASA Langley Research Center From Sputnik to Apollo" (NASA History Series, 1995), which was the only book ever nominated by NASA for the Pulitzer Prize in history, as well as "The Wind and Beyond," a six volume history of aerodynamics.

Senior Editor Denise Roy of Simon & Schuster acquired North American rights, including first serial and audio, from Laurie Fox of the Linda Chester Literary Agency. S&S Audio will publish the audio book. Carlisle & Company will be handling the foreign rights. The film rights have been acquired by Clint Eastwood, who will produce and direct the picture for Warner Brothers.

Clint and WB spacing out on astronaut

March 12, 2003

— "Space Cowboy" Clint Eastwood has acquired the film rights to James Hansen's authorized biography of Neil Armstrong, reports Variety.

Eastwood will not star as the first moonwalker, but will produce and direct the film for Warner Brothers.

"James Hansen's book examines the life of a private man who shared a profound experience with the entire world; it's a story that I think would make an interesting movie," said Eastwood in an interview with Variety.

The book, "First Man: A Life of Neil A. Armstrong", is expected to be completed by Hansen in late 2004.

The following first appeared in The Auburn Plainsman. It is reprinted here with permission.

Unveiling the man with that famous step

by Jason Odom, The Auburn Plainsman

January 30, 2003

— Almost 34 years after Neil Armstrong's "giant leap for mankind," James Hansen, history professor at Auburn University in Alabama, was given permission to write the biography of the first man to walk on the moon.

"It's an ordinary boyhood that became an extraordinary life," Hansen said of Armstrong. "Most people remember him just for the moon landing. What people see is him walking down the ladder. What that is is an icon, not the real person."

Hansen, who can now tell the world about the "real" Armstrong, will become the first person to chronicle the life of the former astronaut in a book.

Getting permission wasn't as easy as it may seem.

Armstrong has maintained an air of privacy around his life, in contrast to fellow high-profile astronauts Buzz Aldrin and John Glenn.

Because of this, repeated attempts by authors like Stephen Ambrose and James Michener were denied.

Hansen's own attempts yielded the same answer, but he was given the go-ahead after a friendship developed. Hansen sent Armstrong some of his published books and articles.

"I first started thinking on this three years ago," Hansen said, "and I realized that pre-research must be done to look more credible."

At the same time, Armstrong, now 72, was shifting from the corporate world into the slower pace of retired life.

Hansen said the timing of these events could not have been better.

"Neil's busy schedule made him distracted," he said. "I didn't think much of my chances at first. I wasn't sure for a while, but finally he invited me up to Cincinnati."

Last summer, Hansen signed on to write Armstrong's first biography. As proof of their agreement, he was given an endorsement letter to help him "in writing a biography about (Armstrong's) involvement in the evolution of flight."

Hansen's work has led him all over the country, from Edwards Air Force Base in California to Cape Canaveral's Kennedy Space Center.

In between, Hansen will also visit the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas and Washington D.C.

He said he hopes to have his research completed by the end of this summer.

"It's ambitious," he said. "But I think I can do it."

Among his resources will be 24 hours of recorded interviews with Armstrong. Hansen also plans to talk to Armstrong's family and friends, NASA officials and former astronauts.

During his research, Hansen hopes to visit LIFE Magazine's archives in New York City.

During the 1960s, LIFE was the only publication NASA allowed to publish personal stories of the space program's astronauts. Until now, no independent researcher has been granted access to them.

Hansen found help in Don Logan, an Auburn alumnus and chairman of AOL/Time Warner's Media and Communications Group Inc., who helped him gain access to the archives.

These are the moments Hansen's academic life is built around.

He is a graduate of Indiana University with a master's degree and doctorate from Ohio State University. He teaches the history of flight and space history at Auburn.

His office in Thach Hall shows his passion for his work by the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and autographed photos adorning the wall.

Hansen said he hopes to have his book finished by the summer of 2004. As to whether Armstrong would visit [Auburn] any time soon, the professor said no plans have been made.

He added, however, his hope that something could be arranged for Armstrong to be on hand for the book's release.

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