‘YOU analysed my samples from the Moon’.
Those were the words the first man to set foot on the moon said to an Open University professor who fronted an attempt to land a space probe on Mars.
Professor Colin Pillinger told the Citizen how he was introduced to NASA astronaut Neil Armstrong in March 2010. The OU scientist, who has worked at the university in Milton Keynes for 28 years, paid tribute to 82-year-old Mr Armstrong, who died on Saturday.
He met Mr Armstrong at a Royal Society event and revealed he was sought out by the astronaut for a private chat.
Mr Pillinger said: “He appeared with Apollo 13 astronaut Jim Lovell for a question and answer session. After the event I got up to leave and officials from the US Embassy ran over and told me he had requested a moment of my time.
“When I went back his first words were ‘you analysed some of my samples’. In fact his samples were the first I analysed while working for NASA after earning my Phd. Without his efforts I would not have been able to do so and might not be where I am now. We owe him a great deal.
Mr Pillinger was the principal investigator for the British Beagle 2 Mars lander project and worked at NASA analysing the lunar samples brought back by astronauts from the Apollo 11 space mission in 1969.
He explained how Mr Armstrong was a modest man, who was fairly reclusive.
He said: “I was told that in 40 years he had probably not even accumulated 100 events. However, he was a very nice man.
“He made a joke how he only knew two names in the British Space Programme, mine and Sir Isaac Newton. The very fact he knew of my work was extremely gratifying.
“He was extremely influential to a number of people and enjoyed talking to people privately about scientific work.”