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Purdue archives keeps Neil Armstrong’s story alive

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – The death of Neil Armstrong has reignited interest in the life of the first man to walk on the moon – from his words to papers.

The Purdue University archive that houses personal items from Armstrong, and other astronauts, is fielding more requests since his Aug. 25 death at age 82.

Tracy Grimm, who oversees the Flight and Space Exploration Archives, said the Discovery Channel wanted access to interviews between Armstrong and James R. Hansen, author of the 2005 biography “First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong,” for a program. Hansen donated 22 microcassettes worth of interviews conducted for the book.

“Part of the goal of the Flight and Space Exploration Archives is to be accessible to the public, or anyone really,” Grimm told the Journal and Courier ( ). “The transcriptions of the Hansen interviews were on 3.5 floppy discs – remember those? So we had to find a machine to convert the discs. We had to find a machine to transfer the microcassettes.”

Using Hansen’s notes about the interviews, archive employees were able to locate the subjects the producers were interested in. The hour-long program, “Neil Armstrong: The Legacy,” premiered on Aug. 30.

Grimm said the request prompted the archive to start the process of transferring dozens of hours of Armstrong interviews into a digital form.

Armstrong earned a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering from Purdue in 1955. He was awarded an honorary doctorate in engineering from Purdue in 1970. As commander of Apollo 11, Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon after the lunar landing on July 20, 1969.

In 2009 Armstrong donated boxes of papers to Purdue Libraries’ Division of Archives and Special Collections, part of the Virginia Kelly Karnes Archives and Special Collections Research Center. In those boxes were personal correspondence, mostly letters to Armstrong requesting autographs or appearances, plus boxes of books from his library, NASA handbooks, flight checklists for various missions, and documents related to NASA studies he conducted

In time, more from the Armstrong estate is expected.

“Now what will happen, when the families have time to grieve, we will work with them to carry out his wishes to have his scholarly papers donated here,” Grimm said.

Alumni astronauts Eugene Cernan of Apollo 17, Roy Bridges Jr. and the late Janice Voss also have donated personal papers to the archives.

In July, Grimm became the first Barron Hilton Archivist for Flight and Space Exploration. Purdue Libraries is receiving a $2 million grant from Barron Hilton and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation to endow an archivist for the Flight and Space Exploration Archives. Purdue also houses the George Putnam Collection of Amelia Earhart papers, the world’s largest collection of memorabilia and artifacts tied to Earhart.

“I’ve always had an interest in space exploration and interest in flight,” said Grimm, who came to Purdue from the University of Notre Dame. “I love working with donors as an archivist, helping them see their legacy and explain how their papers can have an impact on society. What better topic to excite students?”

While there are no plans yet for an exhibit of Armstrong’s work, one will focus on astronaut Jerry Ross, a Purdue graduate and spacewalker

The exhibit, “Jerry L. Ross: An Astronaut’s Journey,” will be open from Jan. 7 to Feb. 22 and corresponds with the January release by Purdue University Press of the book, “Spacewalker: My Journey in Space and Faith as NASA’s Record-Setting Frequent Flyer” by Ross and John Norberg.