‘Would Dad Approve?’ Neil Armstrong’s Heirs Divide Over a Lucrative Legacy - The New York Times - Canadanewsmedia
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‘Would Dad Approve?’ Neil Armstrong’s Heirs Divide Over a Lucrative Legacy – The New York Times



Last fall, Neil Armstrong’s two sons began a round of media appearances to promote a venture that would make them millions of dollars: a series of auctions of about 3,000 mementos from their father’s moon mission and NASA career.

“One Giant Sale” was CNBC’s headline, playing on the astronaut’s famous line, as Mark and Rick Armstrong talked up the items — an American flag that had flown to the moon on Apollo 11; a flight suit their father had worn earlier in his career; and many possessions that had nothing to do with space, including Mr. Armstrong’s childhood teddy bear and a preschool report card he signed.

“You just hope that people get positive energy from these things,” Mark Armstrong told “CBS This Morning.” He told The New York Times they had “struggled with” what their father might think of the auctions. “Would Dad approve? Let’s see what positive things we can do with the proceeds,” he said.

The auctions would prove lucrative amid the rising wave of publicity leading up to the 50th anniversary of the moon landing this month: $16.7 million in sales to date. The Dallas auction house calls the memorabilia the Armstrong Family Collection, though it includes a small number of items from other sources, including the astronaut Buzz Aldrin. Another auction, the fourth, is set for November.

Those sales by the brothers, who also pursued a newly disclosed $6 million wrongful death settlement over their father’s medical care, have exposed deep differences among those who knew Neil Armstrong about his legacy — and what he would have wanted.

Some relatives, friends and archivists find the sales unseemly, citing the astronaut’s aversion to cashing in on his celebrity and flying career and the loss of historical objects to the public.

“I seriously doubt Neil would approve of selling off his artifacts and memorabilia,” said James R. Hansen, his biographer. “He never did any of that in his lifetime.”

CreditDon Emmert/AFP/Getty Images

The astronaut had stopped signing autographs in 1994, after he discovered that many of those requesting his signature were then selling them. His personal lawyer, Ross Wales, said his client resisted the idolatry focused on his signature and possessions in part because he considered himself only the frontman for a huge NASA enterprise.

“His feeling was that he was not special because he was the first person to walk on the moon, and that he wouldn’t have done it if it weren’t for the thousands of people who worked on the mission,” Mr. Wales said.

By contrast with the astronaut’s sons, Carol Armstrong — his second wife, whom he married in 1994 after a divorce initiated by Janet Armstrong, Rick and Mark’s mother — is not known to have sold anything. Instead she has lent and donated a collection of memorabilia to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington; such loans often convert to donations in an arrangement intended to avoid gift taxes. People who know her say she and her adult children, Andrew and Molly, believe her husband would have opposed the commerce in the trappings of his work and life. (Carol and her children declined to comment.)

Mark Armstrong said that the question of what’s best for posterity and what his father might have wanted is not so simple. He said that he and his brother had already donated to museums more than $500,000 in cash and artifacts worth about $1.4 million, and that they had lent items worth several million more.

But he said donations, which offer the donor tax benefits, do not guarantee public access. “Museums can choose to store items out of sight or unilaterally decide to sell them,” he said in an email forwarded by his wife.

As for his father, Mark said, “I think he would judge us not on whether we auctioned items or not, but rather what we do with the proceeds and how we conduct our lives. Dad said that he wanted to leave the world a better place than he found it. I intend to follow his example and teach my children to do the same.”

Mark and his wife, Wendy, said they were using auction proceeds to create an environmental nonprofit in honor of Mark’s parents, called Vantage Earth, that Wendy said would work “to preserve and protect the earth from the damage done to it by its own population — a concern raised by Neil upon looking back at the earth from the moon.”

Tensions are common in any family affected by divorce. When it is the family of the first human being to step onto the moon, with global fame and a large estate, relations get only more complicated.

After leaving NASA in 1971, Mr. Armstrong taught aerospace engineering at the University of Cincinnati, served on multiple corporate boards and accepted speaking fees, accumulating a fortune worth many millions. But he turned down many opportunities to make even more money, friends say.

At the time of his death, most of Mr. Armstrong’s assets, including the memorabilia, were left in a trust, the beneficiaries of which could not be determined by The Times. His sons may have received some items from their father through the trust, and they received other keepsakes when their mother died in 2018, according to Wendy Armstrong. The first auction was held five months later.

Strains between Mr. Armstrong’s first and second families came to a head after his death in 2012, at age 82, of complications after heart surgery. The Times reported this past week that Mercy Health-Fairfield Hospital, outside Cincinnati, had secretly paid the family $6 million to settle a claim that his treatment had been deficient. The family also sought changes in hospital protocols to prevent such deaths in the future.

Papers sent anonymously to The Times described how the removal of pacemaker wires installed during surgery had caused bleeding that could not be repaired quickly because no cardiac surgeon was on duty. The resulting loss of oxygen to Mr. Armstrong’s brain left him in a vegetative state; he died 11 days later after life support was withdrawn.

While there was some friction over when to remove life support, the real clash came later, over the medical malpractice claim, which the sons pushed for and Carol, his widow, declined to participate in.

“In the end, strong feelings ripped apart Neil’s loved ones over the hospital’s handling of Neil’s care,” said Mr. Hansen, who became close to the family while writing his 2005 Armstrong biography, “First Man.”


CreditBill Ingalls/NASA, via Getty Images

Mr. Hansen called the medical crisis “a terrible, traumatic situation” made worse by the fact that “Neil essentially had two distinct families that were not, if they ever had been able to before, thinking and feeling as one.”

Carol Armstrong, who knew her husband had considered the cardiologist a friend, “felt strongly that Neil would not have wanted her to sue the doctors or the hospital — he would not want anyone to take advantage of his name in such a way,” Mr. Hansen said.

Court records show Ms. Armstrong as receiving “zero — not participating,” by her own choice. Neither did her children, the astronaut’s stepchildren, seek any payment.

Mark Armstrong, a 56-year-old retired software engineer, and Rick, 62, a onetime animal trainer who has a software consulting business, got the bulk of the hospital’s payment, about $2.6 million apiece. Neil’s surviving brother and sister got $250,000 each, and the six children of Rick and Mark got $24,000 each.

One court filing in the case, by a lawyer arguing for a greater share for the grandchildren, discussed the uneasy equation between familial relations — even love — and cold cash. While acknowledging that Mr. Armstrong’s siblings might get a larger payment because “they loved him the longest, depended on him the most” and found his loss “most painful,” the lawyer, Bertha G. Helmick, wrote that the “opposite is equally true.”

“The minor grandchildren, having had the least time with Decedent, have suffered the greatest loss of time, attention, protection, advice, guidance, counsel and affection.”

The grandchildren, she wrote, “lost their universally beloved and revered grandfather, who could magically open any door, innocently pave ways into college admissions, and who would have always carried a de facto hero element to any school or athletic or workplace function.”

Rick and Mark Armstrong, represented by Mark’s wife, Wendy, a lawyer, got the settlement after threatening to announce their concerns about their father’s treatment at a gathering at Kennedy Space Center for the 45th anniversary of the moon shot.

The brothers would use the 50th anniversary this month for a different kind of leverage. They were far from the first to sell an astronaut’s possessions — Heritage Auctions in Dallas has sold such collections for 20 other astronauts and their families, said Greg Rohan, the company’s president. But none had the status of Neil Armstrong.

“This is really the holy grail,” Mr. Rohan said in a promotional video.

“Neil Armstrong holds a special place in the space history enthusiasts’ world,” said Robert Pearlman, editor of CollectSpace.com, a website devoted to space memorabilia.

The prices reflected that reverence. Items fetching the highest prices tended to be those that traveled with Mr. Armstrong to the moon, such as a rare gold medal that sold for $2.04 million this month — the highest price in the lot. The American flag that had flown aboard Apollo 11 got $275,000.

Personal items, from Mr. Armstrong’s own childhood and early years of parenting, also sold well. The teddy bear sold for $3,500. A letter that Mr. Armstrong wrote to the Easter bunny as a child, asking it to “please hide our baskets” and signed “Neil,” sold for $4,000. A postcard sent to his parents from Paris in 1962 (“Having a fine time and not working too hard,” it reads) went for $1,375. The preschool report card Mr. Armstrong signed for his son Mark went for $750.

Even Mr. Armstrong’s personal collection of magazines and vinyl records — most bearing no relation to his journey to space, such as his copies of The Family Handyman and Sports Illustrated — found buyers, mostly for $200 or less.

Many of the items sold at auction — ranging from photographs in his spacesuit to personal checks — included Mr. Armstrong’s handwriting and signature, though he’d been loath to see his autographs sold when he was alive.

“He went out of his way not to make his signature available,” said Mr. Wales, the lawyer, who worked for Mr. Armstrong for more than a decade. “He realized that, yes, there were young kids who just thought it was great to get an autograph, but there were young kids who had parents who went about taking their kids’ autographs and selling them. He just didn’t like to be made a fuss over.”

In 2005, Mr. Armstrong learned that a barber had sold his hair clippings to a memorabilia collector for $3,000. He directed Mr. Wales to propose that the barber either “return the hair to Mr. Armstrong” or “donate, to a charitable organization of his choice, an amount equal to the proceeds you realized on the sale of his hair.”

In a letter to the barber, Mr. Wales cited a 1998 Ohio law that bars the unauthorized use of someone’s persona for profit, either while they are that person is alive or for 100 years after his or her death. The astronaut John Glenn, also an Ohio native, had urged the state legislature to pass the law. Mr. Armstrong felt similarly, Mr. Wales said.


CreditBill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images

When the first auction approached last year, archivists at Purdue University, Mr. Armstrong’s alma mater, issued a mild public protest. In a letter to The Times, the archivists noted that Neil and Carol Armstrong had donated more than 400 boxes of his papers to Purdue, where they had been consulted by scholars and students; used to produce books, dissertations, films and exhibits; and included in a dozen courses.

“Auctioning off historical treasures into private hands at the expense of providing access to the public is problematic,” they wrote. “Archives exist to make the remnants of history accessible and long lasting so that current and future generations have access to them.”

Mr. Pearlman, of the space memorabilia site, who said he corresponded with Mr. Armstrong before his death, said he understood the mixed feelings about such auctions, despite his own avid interest in collecting.

“I understand those who frown upon selling these items,” he said. “But what do you do with them?” He said there was no perfect path for such an inheritance.

“I can’t say Neil would or wouldn’t have wanted these auctions to happen,” Mr. Pearlman said. “I can say I don’t think there’s a clear right or wrong here.”

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The weird, repeating signals from deep space just tripled – CNET




We’re picking up more signals from deep space.

Danielle Futselaar

Scientists suddenly have a whole lot more data on one of the strangest and most recent mysteries in the cosmos, so-called fast radio bursts (FRBs). First discovered in 2007, these fleeting blasts of radio waves originate thousands, millions or even billions of light years from Earth. 

FRBs have influenced the design of new radio telescopes like the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME). And now a team of Canadian and American researchers using CHIME has reported a major new set of FRB detections that could fine-tune our understanding of where these enigmatic signals come from and what produces them. 

The group says it’s discovered eight new FRBs that repeat.

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“Repeating FRBs are highly valuable from an observational perspective since their repeating nature make them better candidates for localizing their host galaxies and multi-wavelength follow-up observations that can help determine if FRBs emit at wavelengths other than radio,” said Ryan McKinven, one of the researchers who is based at the University of Toronto and co-author of a paper about the FRBs.

Those follow-up observations could provide details about the origins of the strange bursts, he added. A larger sample size of repeating FRBs to study could also help scientists answer one of the obvious questions about non-repeating FRBs: Could they actually be repeating FRBs that just haven’t been recorded as repeating yet?

While dozens of FRBs have been detected and cataloged over the past 12 years, few of those deep space signals had been known to repeat themselves. Two have been documented so far in published, peer-reviewed journals. Two others — one via a Russian radio telescope, the other via Australia — have been reported but not yet reviewed. 

So with this batch of bursts, the number of reported repeaters has tripled — from four to 12. 

The team laid out its findings in a draft paper that’s been submitted to the Astrophysical Journal and was posted this month on the Arxiv pre-print site

Discovering different types of FRBs at an unexpected rate, we will soon open new windows into understanding the cosmological origin of these high-energy astrophysical phenomena,” said co-author Masoud Rafiei-Ravandi of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. 

In addition to the sheer number of repeating FRBs discovered in one haul, one of the newfound repeaters appears to be much closer to Earth than the handful of fast radio bursts that have been traced back to a source galaxy. So far, traceable FRBs seem to come from sources on the other side of the universe — we’re talking billions of light years away.

However, in the new paper, the authors suggest that one of the repeating FRBs could actually originate near the edge of our own Milky Way galaxy but caution that more study is needed to better localize the signal. 

“Knowing that we are observing every patch of sky visible to CHIME once every day, it was only a matter of time before we detected a very nearby source,” co-author Pragya Chawla of McGill University said.

Studying relatively nearby FRBs will hopefully allow scientists to get a better idea of just what the heck is throwing off these signals, which could be anything from far-fetched notions like alien starships to the less fantastic but literally more powerful sources, like neutron stars.

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Climate Crisis: Hurricanes Are Making Some Spiders More Aggressive – Inverse




In the most uncomfortable piece of climate crisis-related news yet, a team of scientists believe that the increasing tropical cyclones may be changing the temperament of a “super abundant” spider. As the storms continue to increase in tandem with the planet’s temperature, some of our eight-legged friends are starting to get more aggressive, report scientists in a paper published Monday in Nature Ecology and Evolution.

Specifically, these findings refer to a species of group-dwelling spiders called Anelosimus studiosus. They’re “hardly majestic,” lead study author Jonathan Pruitt, Ph.D., an associate professor at the University of California Santa Barbara, tells Inverse, but they happen to have very intricate social lives. Along the Gulf Coast, the spiders form multi-female groups that hunt in packs, dwell in group webs, and sometimes rear each other’s children. But the climate crisis may be shifting these old spider traditions toward a less interconnected lifestyle.

In the paper, Pruitt and his team show that hurricanes are actually changing the social and behavior dynamics of these spider colonies. The aggressive spiders in the colonies are well-equipped to handle the chaos, but the less aggressive ones are not. That inequality, he explains, may reshape life in the colony.

“There’s a behavioral tipping point when very very aggressive colonies stop working together, start killing each other, and the group wisely disbands,” he says. “Combine hurricane increases with global warming and I think you could get something like that.”

Anelosimus studiosus, a social cobweb spider, can live in groups, but if the group becomes too aggressive it can disband. 

The species as a whole will fare just fine, he says, in case you’re worried about losing even more animal and insect species to climate change. But the spiders are a good example of the way incomprehensibly large events — say, increases in large storms — can cause minute but significant changes too, like the behavior of a five-millimeter-long spider.

How Storms Change Spider Behavior

Anelosimus studiosus have two “behavioral” phenotypes (traits) that seem to be heritable, suggesting that they each have a genetic underpinning.

Some individuals are naturally more aggressive, which means that they swiftly attack in large numbers, kill their mates, are more wasteful their their prey, and are prone to fight among themselves; they also happen to be better at foraging when resources are scarce. The other individuals tend to be more docile, so they’re better at coexisting. To survive in a colony, you need a balance of both.

But Pruitt’s work suggests that tropical cyclones are selecting for the aggressive spiders. He observed 240 colonies before and after Hurricane Florence, Hurricane Michael, and tropical storm Alberto in the fall of 2018, finding that, while roughly 75 percent of each colony survived the storm, the colonies with more aggressive foraging responses produced more egg cases than the colonies with less aggressive tendencies.

Over time, this process shifts the nature of the colony toward the more aggressive types.

What Aggressive Behavior Means For the Species

While this shift likely won’t impact the species’ chances of survival, it does edge in on a “behavioral” tipping point. A colony of overly aggressive spiders, honed by the hostile summer cyclones of the Southern USA, is unlikely to cohabitate, says Pruitt. So if this trend continues, these spiders, which traditionally live in tight communities, may each decide to go it alone.

“I think the species as a whole will fare fine. But, if tropical cyclones start striking some regions all of the time (e.g., annually), then we might see this species revert back to is ancestral solitary state, where females no longer work together and they go it alone,” he explains.

Already, we know that extreme environmental disturbances (like the once predicted with increasing global temperature), will profoundly affect which species will live and die. But Pruitt’s work also shows a more nuanced approach to how climate change will impact species, as Eric Ameca, an ecologist who studies biodiversity and response to extreme climate events, adds in a commentary accompanying the new paper. While some species do have adaptive responses (so they’ll probably make it out okay), Ameca writes, they may look or behave a lot differently due to these extreme weather events.

Pruitt for one, sees the changing behavior of his spiders as a puzzle to be solved — and maybe applied across species in the future.

“It also means that the future of life, how it operates, and who prevails in the face of changing environments is going to be a very difficult puzzle to solve. Thankfully, humans like puzzles,” he says.


Extreme events, such as tropical cyclones, are destructive and influential forces. However, observing and recording the ecological effects of these statistically improbable, yet pro- found ‘black swan’ weather events is logistically difficult. By anticipating the trajectory of tropical cyclones, and sampling populations before and after they make landfall, we show that these extreme events select for more aggressive colony phe- notypes in the group-living spider Anelosimus studiosus. This selection is great enough to drive regional variation in colony phenotypes, despite the fact that tropical cyclone strikes are irregular, occurring only every few years, even in particularly prone regions. These data provide compelling evidence for tropical cyclone-induced selection driving the evolution of an important functional trait and show that black swan events contribute to within-species diversity and local adaptation.

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Hurricanes, spiders and Waffle Houses: How a McMaster evolutionary biologist spent his summer – TheSpec.com




The findings might seem relevant only to spider colonies, but in a broader sense, studying the evolutionary tendencies of species following extreme weather events could have wide-ranging applications, Pruitt suggested, given climate models predicting more violent storms in the future.

“The fact is, we know surprisingly little about what kind of species do better after these storms; how it affects diversity, how storms can cause the evolution of certain collective traits, or individual traits … It hints that tropical storms could drive the evolution of aggressiveness in other species.”

Anelosimus studiosus spiders are not harmful to humans. Pruitt, an engaging and often humorous speaker — and a Canada 150 Research Chair — said that the spiders are just five millimetres long and, while terrifying to, say, a fly, “I could put some on your Red Lobster salad, and they would drown in the dressing before you would ever know they were there.”

He chased results in the field following hurricanes Florence, Michael and Alberto.

In the process, Pruitt said he observed more than 1,000 spiders in 240 colonies, listened to four fantasy novels in his car while logging 33,000 km on the road and ate frequently at U.S. road-trip staple Waffle House, which never seems to close.

He recorded spider behaviour by putting a little piece of paper in the webbed colony, and then used a mechanical toothbrush with a metal thread attached to vibrate the paper and coax spiders out of their home, as though food, like a moth, was waiting.

Docile spiders “take their sweet time” coming out, and aggressive ones emerge quickly. He noted his findings on the spot.

He laughs imagining the sight he must have been for locals who spotted him poking around a large silken web, wearing his beat-up Pokemon T-shirt (a childhood enthusiasm) and holding a toothbrush “that looks like a narwhal.”

Next up for the insect/storm chaser — McMaster colleagues call him a “swarm chaser’ — is Northern Australia for three months, starting in January, to examine cyclonic storm impact on spiders and a wide range of other insects.

“I’m narrowly missing what could be a cold winter here,” said Pruitt, who grew up in Florida.

“I chase summer.”


905-526-3515 | @jonjwells


905-526-3515 | @jonjwells

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