The death of Neil Armstrong over the weekend triggered a wave of commemorations, from Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to countless tweeters who said they were inspired by the first man to walk on the moon. Armstrong and his fellow Apollo astronauts also made a big impact on science — by helping to steer a generation of young students toward scientific research. That was one of the conclusions to come out of a survey that Nature conducted in the summer of 2009, on the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing. Nature asked 800 scientists who had published in the journal about the legacy of the Apollo program. Half of the researchers who responded said that the Apollo missions had inspired them to become scientists.
Our story on the Apollo survey notes that the moon landings influenced future researchers in many fields, not just those in astronomy. “I became completely space crazy,” one life scientist told Nature at the time. “I was certain I’d be an astronaut. My interest shifted to biology, but I still believe Apollo 11 was a major influence on me.” Most researchers also felt that there were strong scientific reasons for continuing to support human space flight.