August 26, 2012 AT 1:51 am

Neil Armstrong, Expert Pilot

Most of us know Neil Armstrong as the first man to step foot on the moon. Rightly so, but lost in all this is the fact that Armstrong was also a truly awesome pilot.

During Armstrong and Dave Scott’s Gemini VIII mission, the spacecraft malfunctioned and set itself into a roll (starting around 19’00″ in the video above), with a rate approaching 60 RPM (1 revolution every second). At roll rates such as this the danger of humans blacking out becomes very real. Armstrong, as the Command Pilot, kept his cool and managed to stop the roll by activating the Reaction Control System, and then orienting the Gemini craft for a perfect emergency landing into the Pacific Ocean.

When I say perfect, I mean perfect. The craft came down exactly where it was supposed to be, and exactly when it was supposed to be there. Between RCS activation and re-entry, Gemini 8 completed another whole orbit around the Earth with Armstrong at the controls. He then had to manually pilot the capsule into re-entry attitude at just the right moment in order to land in the right spot.

By his actions on Gemini 8, Neil Armstrong may have single-handedly saved the space program. The loss of two astronauts in orbit would have meant months- or perhaps years-long delays while investigations and design revisions were worked out. We may never have gone to the moon, and the course of manned spaceflight would have been changed forever.

Thank goodness for Neil Armstrong.

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