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First man on moon gives rare interview to ... Australian accountant?

By Nick Thompson, CNN
updated 4:13 PM EDT, Sat May 26, 2012
 Astronaut Neil Armstrong, commander of Apollo 11 Lunar Landing Mission, with his family on August 26, 1963. Astronaut Neil Armstrong, commander of Apollo 11 Lunar Landing Mission, with his family on August 26, 1963.
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Armstrong: First man on the moon
Armstrong: First man on the moon
Armstrong: First man on the moon
Armstrong: First man on the moon
Commander of Apollo 11 Lunar Landing Mission.
Armstrong: First man on the moon
Armstrong: First man on the moon
Armstrong: First man on the moon
Armstrong: First man on the moon
Armstrong: First man on the moon
Commander of Apollo 11 Lunar Landing Mission.
Armstrong: First man on the moon
Armstrong: First man on the moon
Armstrong: First man on the moon
Armstrong: First man on the moon
Armstrong: First man on the moon
Armstrong: First man on the moon
Armstrong: First man on the moon
Armstrong: First man on the moon
Armstrong: First man on the moon
Armstrong: First man on the moon
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Famously reclusive Neil Armstrong grants interview to Australian accountant
  • Apollo 11 astronaut narrates historic 1969 landing and first steps on moon
  • Armstrong landed Eagle module on moon with only 20 seconds of fuel left
  • 81-year-old American worries about budget cuts to NASA

(CNN) -- It was one small interview for astronaut Neil Armstrong ... and one giant scoop for an Australian accountant, of all people.

In the year's most out-of-this-world get, the first man to step foot on the moon sat down with CPA (Certified Practicing Account) Australia's Alex Malley to narrate his historic lunar landing in an extremely rare interview.

Armstrong was the commander of NASA's three-man Apollo 11 mission that landed on the moon on July 20, 1969. Armstrong and fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin spent about two hours on the surface before returning to the Eagle lunar module.

The 81-year old American is famously reluctant to discuss the moon landing and has granted very few interviews in the last 40 years -- so why choose to open up to CPA Australia? Malley thinks he knows the answer.

"I knew something a lot of people didn't know about Neil Armstrong -- his dad was an auditor," said Malley in the first of the four part interview with Armstrong posted on the CPA website.

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In the 45-minute interview Commander Armstrong discussed his childhood in Ohio, walking on the moon, and what it's like to sleep on a spaceship.

Armstrong also recounts the moment he got the call to ask him if his crew were ready to land on the moon.

"The bosses asked, 'Do you think you and your guys are ready?" Armstrong recalled. "I said it'd be nice to have another month, but we're in a race here and we had to take the opportunity when we had it. I had to say we are ready, we are ready to go."

"I thought we had a 90% chance of getting back safely to Earth on that flight, but only a 50-50 chance of making a successful landing on the first attempt."

Armstrong also details the crew's harrowing 12-minute descent to the moon, when he realized that the Eagle lunar module's auto-pilot was preparing to land the crew on the slope of a huge moon crater.

"The computer showed us where it intended to land, and it was a very bad location, on the side of a large crater about 100-150m in diameter with very steep slopes covered with very large boulders -- not a good place to land at all," he said.

Armstrong took over the craft manually and managed to land it like a helicopter in a smoother area to the west with just 20 seconds of fuel left. "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed," were Armstrong's words to mission control on earth.

As for "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind," Armstrong says he didn't think of those immortal words until after they'd landed safely.

The first few moments when Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped out of the Eagle and onto the surface of the moon were tender, he remembers.

"We recognized that we wouldn't have been there if it hadn't been for our competitors in the Soviet Union -- it was a competition that made both of our programs able to do what we achieved. We put medallions for our fallen colleagues on both sides, and that was a tender moment."

Armstrong laughed off the conspiracy theorists who believe the 1969 moon landing was faked, telling CPA Australia's Malley that "800,000 staff at NASA couldn't possibly keep a secret."

"People love conspiracy theories, but it was never a concern to me -- because I know one day someone's going to go fly back up there and pick up that camera I left," he said.

As for the future direction of space travel, Armstrong worries about cuts to NASA's budget, and says the space program remains an important source of motivation for young Americans.

NASA's 2013 budget for the exploration of Mars was cut by 38%, and the budget for planetary exploration overall was reduced by $300 million -- a major concern, according to Armstrong.

"NASA's been one of the most successful public investments in motivating students to do well and achieve all they can achive, and it's sad that we are turning the program in a direction where it will reduce the amount of motivation it provides to young people."

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