Heights of Success

Mount Everest

A little dark-haired boy sat in his house in Auckland, New Zealand, reading adventure books, his vivid imagination bringing the heroes of the stories to life (Brennan).  These heroes, who seemed to possess abilities and virtues beyond those of ordinary men, made the boy dream about going on an adventure himself (Coburn 18).  Seven years later and over 8,000 miles away, a small, two-year-old boy sat at the Cleveland Municipal Airport with his parents.  His eyes were glued to the airplanes landing and taking off; he was so fascinated that he was not ready to leave when his parents took him home (Kramer 13).  No one who had seen these two boys as children would have guessed what they would grow up to do.  These two boys were Edmund Hillary and Neil Armstrong, modern-day adventurers, one who climbed to the top of Mount Everest, and one who traveled to the moon.

Mount Ruapehu
Mount Ruapehu, New Zealand

Both Edmund Hillary and Neil Armstrong’s childhoods helped to prepare them for their future careers.  On July 20, 1919, Edmund Percival Hillary was born to Percival and Gertrude Hillary in Auckland, New Zealand.  His father was a beekeeper and his mother was a teacher.  Together, Hillary and his brother Rex helped their father with the family beekeeping business, which Hillary really enjoyed because he liked to be outdoors (Brennan).  Hillary visited his first mountain, Mount Ruapehu, on a skiing trip when he was 16.  Four years later, Hillary climbed to the top of a mountain for the first time in New Zealand’s Southern Alps.  Neil Alden Armstrong was born on August 5, 1930 at his grandparent’s Ohio farm to Stephen and Viola Armstrong.  His flight to success began when he was six and rode in an airplane for the first time.  Fascinated by flying, Armstrong started working jobs after school as soon as he was old enough.  The money from these jobs paid for flight lessons, and when he was 16-years-old, Neil Armstrong received his pilot’s license.  One year later, Armstrong left home to earn a degree in aeronautical engineering at Purdue University on a scholarship from the United States Navy (Hansen).

Soon, however, the careers of both of these men came to a halt as war intervened.  24-year-old Edmund Hillary was working in his father’s beekeeping business when World War II exploded in Europe.  Although he was not obligated to join the New Zealand army because farmers were exempted, Hillary still volunteered and served as a search-and-rescue navigator in the Pacific Ocean for the Royal New Zealand Air Force until he was wounded and sent home.  After recovering, Hillary helped his brother with the beekeeping business, and began to climb mountains again (“Sir Edmund Hillary”).

Armstrong Flying a Navy Panther Jet
Armstrong Flying a Navy Panther Jet

Neil Armstrong was studying at Purdue University when the United States Navy sent him to train as a combat pilot in Florida.  Soon after, the Korean War began and Armstrong traveled to Korea to fight.  During the course of the war, Armstrong flew 78 combat missions in Navy Panther jets.  He was honorably discharged in 1952.  Three years later, he completed his degree in aeronautical engineering at Purdue (Hansen).

Edmund Hillary and Neil Armstrong each accomplished feats that no one had ever done before.  Upon restarting his mountaineering, Hillary’s work became a landslide success.  He traveled to Europe and conquered mountains in the Austrian and Swiss Alps.  Returning home, Hillary joined a mountaineering organization and climbed Mukut Parbat, a 23,760-foot tall Himalayan mountain, on July 11, 1951, which marked the start of his career in the Himalayas (“Sir Edmund Hillary”).  Before long, a British team invited Hillary to join them on an expedition to ascend Mount Everest, the highest place on earth (“Sir Edmund Hillary”).  Earlier attempts to climb Everest began from the north, but communist China had conquered Tibet and closed it to foreigners.  So, in August, 1951, Hillary helped explore the southern slopes of Everest for a new place to ascend the mountain.  Two years later, with a Sherpa mountain-climber named Tenzing Norgay, Hillary set out to overcome Mount Everest.

Left to Right: Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay
Left to Right: Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay

The expedition was dangerous and required oxygen tanks and masks and warm clothing to keep Hillary and Norgay alive at Mount Everest’s frigid and oxygen-deprived summit, around 29,002 feet above sea level, but, after days of climbing with the British team, Hillary and Norgay struck out alone for the last time.  It was May 29, 1953.  At about 11:30 in the morning, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay stepped onto Mount Everest’s snowy summit (Dempewolff).  Excitedly, Hillary snapped a photograph of Tenzing holding the flags of India, Nepal, and Britain on an ice axe and took pictures of the view from Everest to prove that they had actually reached the peak of the giant mountain (Coburn 33).

After his graduation, Neil Armstrong became a civilian test pilot and flew the X-15 rocket airplane, but, in 1962, he left airplanes behind him and signed up as an astronaut for NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Hansen).  He first flew in space in 1966 with his partner astronaut, David R. Scott.  On this mission, they successfully docked two vehicles in space for the first time.  Seven years later, Armstrong was the captain of the Apollo 11 mission.

Apollo 11 Crew
Left to Right: Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin

At 9:32 in the morning on July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 lifted off from Florida and rocketed towards the moon.  Four days later, with the help of his crew, Edwin Aldrin Jr. and Michael Collins, Armstrong landed the lunar module Eagle on the moon (Hansen).  Climbing down the Eagle’s ladder in his stiff spacesuit, Armstrong stepped onto the moon and said to the world listening miles away on the radio “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” (Baxter).  Armstrong and Aldrin spent around 20 hours on the moon, taking samples of the soil, photographing the moon, and planting the American flag, in contrast to the 20 minutes that Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay stood on top of Mount Everest.

Although cresting Mount Everest and walking on the moon are Edmund Hillary and Neil Armstrong’s crowning achievements, their careers did not end there.  Soon after climbing Mount Everest, Queen Elizabeth II of England knighted Hillary.  In 1957 and 1958, Hillary began a new adventure.  Sir Ernest Shackleton, one of Hillary’s childhood heroes, had failed in his attempt to cross Antarctica (Coburn).  Now, Hillary joined an expedition, led by Sir Vivian Fuchs, to finally complete Shackleton’s dream.

Sir Ernest Shackleton
Sir Ernest Shackleton

The team succeeded in crossing Antarctica from the McMurdo Sound to the South Pole, 14 years after Shackleton’s expedition (Dempewolff).  Another adventure Hillary participated in some years later was an expedition up the Ganges River to find its source (“Sir Edmund Hillary”).  In addition to these explorations, Hillary established schools, hospitals, and clinics in Nepal and helped to protect the environment around Mount Everest, which tourists had damaged after his successful climb.  Sir Edmund Hillary died on January 11, 2008 at the age of 89, 55 years after conquering Mount Everest.

After Armstrong’s return home from the moon, the world showered him with honors.  He received the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, awards from NASA, and recognition from countries all around the world (Baxter).  Resigning from NASA in 1970, Neil Armstrong earned a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering at the University of Southern California, taught aeronautical engineering at the University of Cincinnati, and later worked for an electronics manufacturer (Hansen).  In 1986 Armstrong helped to improve the astronaut program when he became the vice chairman of a presidential commission which investigated the Challenger space shuttle disaster.  After years of hard work flying airplanes and spaceships, Neil Armstrong retired in 2002.  He died on August 25, 2012, 43 years after he walked on the moon.

From their childhoods onwards, Sir Edmund Hillary and Neil Armstrong were being prepared for their future exploits.  What they learned as they grew up aided Hillary to climb Mount Everest and Armstrong to fly to the moon.  Their war experience taught them new skills, like responding to dangerous situations quickly.  Because of their accomplishments, they both earned distinction, even as they continued to work hard and participate in new adventures.  By facing innumerable dangers and difficulties, both Edmund Hillary and Neil Armstrong opened new doors for mankind to pass through.  Although still dangerous, Mount Everest is no longer unconquered, and tourist mountaineers are able to climb to the top of the world, just as 34-year-old Edmund Hillary once did.  Also, the moon is no longer an isolated sphere hanging in the heavens above the reach of man.  Thanks to Armstrong’s “small step,” mankind has been able to establish stations and satellites in space and make further explorations with space probes to other planets, such as Mercury.  By persevering in mountaineering and aeronautical engineering, Edmund Hillary and Neil Armstrong reached heights of success and traveled higher and farther than anyone had ever gone before.

Armstrong on the Moon


Works Cited

Baxter, Roberta. “Neil Armstrong: Learning To Fly.” Neil Armstrong. 1. n.p.: Great Neck Publishing, 2006. Biography Collection Complete. Web. 2 Oct. 2012.

Brennan, Kristine. “Sir Edmund Hillary: Modern-Day Explorer.” Sir Edmund Hillary: Modern-Day Explorer (2000): 6. Biography Collection Complete.  Web.  27 Sept. 2012.

Coburn, Broughton.  Triumph on Everest.  National Geographic Society: Washington D.C., 2000.

Dempewolff, Richard F.  “Hillary, Sir Edmund Percival.”  World Book Online InfoFinder.  World Book, 2012.  Web.  1 Oct. 2012.

Hansen, James R.  “Armstrong, Neil Alden.”  World Book Online InfoFinder.  World Book,  2012.  Web.  28 Sept. 2012.

Kramer, Barbara.  Neil Armstrong: the First Man on the Moon.  Enslow Publishers, Inc.: Springfield, NJ, 1997.

“Sir Edmund Hillary.” Great Athletes (Salem Press) (2001): 3090. Biography Collection Complete. Web.  27 Sept. 2012.