Listen Live

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind.--An exhibit showcasing astronaut Neil Armstrong’s personal papers has opened at Purdue University with a significant milestone coming up this summer.  

“When Armstrong passed away, he had it in his will to leave his scholarly papers to Purdue University libraries. We’re really fortunate. We have over 450 boxes of his personal papers,” said Tracy Grimm, Associate Head of Archives and Special Collections at Purdue University. 

Grimm said the papers detail his journey from his first day as a student at Purdue through his time at NASA and even has about 70,000 pages of fan mail. 

“Many of the fans would ask, ‘Could you please send us your autograph and a picture?’ A lot of people would also ask, ‘What can I do to be an astronaut? What would you recommend from me?’ Then he would answer as many letters as he could,” Grimm said. 

Armstrong passed away in 2012. Shortly after that, Armstrong’s widow, Carol, called the Purdue Archives and Special Collections. 

“She said, ‘I’ve got all things and I really want you to come get them and have them for the archives.’ Carol stays in touch and is always interested in hearing about what the students use the papers for,” Grimm said. 

Armstrong’s Time at Purdue 

Armstrong was not just interested engineering and space when he was a student. 

“Many would be surprised to know that he helped direct a play, he was the music director of his fraternity, and he was in band,” Grimm said. 

He even got a bad grade once in a while. 

“He got a C in Calculus 2, but that’s okay. You can get a bad grade every now and then and still go to the moon,” Grimm said. 

But that wasn’t typically the norm with him. 

“We have almost all of his Purdue notebooks. He took very careful notes, very detailed notes, and you can see someone who worked very hard in school,” Grimm continued. 

Gemini 8 

Grimm believes one of the most memorable pieces of the exhibit is a letter that Armstrong wrote a letter to second grade students in Ohio about his experience on Gemini 8. That was a dangerous mission where Armstrong almost died. 

“He talks to the second graders in a way that really beautifully describes in a language they can understand what it was like to be in space, how it felt, what he ate, so that’s one of my favorites,” Grimm said. 

50-Year Anniversary 

July 20, 2019 will be the 50-year anniversary of the day when Armstrong became the first person to walk on the moon (July 20, 1969). 

“We’ve been planning for this exhibit for nearly two years. We will have a family and open house July 20. There will be other activities going on on campus all day that day,” Grimm said.  

The exhibit is called “Apollo 11 in the Archives: Selections from the Neil A. Armstrong Papers.” It is open at Purdue’s Humanities, Social Science, and Education Library. 

(PHOTO: Purdue University/Mark Simons)