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Neil Armstrong
Credit:James Vaughan
James Hansen,to left with Neil Armstrong
credit: James Hansen

Dr. James Hansen is Professor of History at Auburn University and an authority on the history of science and technology. “First Man,” his best-selling biography of Neil Armstrong, has received major awards and is the basis of the Oscar-nominated flm of the same name. “Ad Astra” sat down with Hansen to explore the life and career of the frst man to walk on the Moon.

AD ASTRA: “First Man” is in itself a “first” in so many ways. Why do you think that Neil Armstrong agreed to an authorized biography after turning down so many previous offers?

HANSEN: I think it was just the right time for him. I know that [his family] … was encouraging him [and] … I think … when he saw my previous books he knew that I would take his engineering seriously. I think the fact that I was an academic actually was in favor of having it done. Neil … [had] been an academic himself at the University of Cincinnati, so I think it was just a combination of factors.

AD ASTRA: What features about Armstrong’s background from growing up in Middle America during the 1930s and 1940s shaped the kind of person he became?

HANSEN: I believe it strongly did and certainly as a biographer I feel … you really need to understand … how he was raised and what kind of community he was in. I think it was just a sense of togetherness and Americana, and also ambition to some extent. The kind of values that were rooted in small town community life … that translated in some interesting ways for personality development and that … seemed to lead in a direction for achievement.

AD ASTRA: You spent a lot of time with Armstrong.Can you give us some insight into his personality? He often came across as introspective and reticent.

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