"I apologise for the inconvenience", United States astronaut Neil Armstrong told Indira Gandhi when informed that the Indian prime minister had kept awake till 4:30 am to watch him land on the moon on July 20, 1969.
This anecdote about the celebrated astronaut, who died two days ago, was recalled here by former External Affairs Minister K Natwar Singh who was present when Armstrong and his fellow astronaut Edwin 'Buzz' Aldrin met Mrs Gandhi in New Delhi as part of their world tour after their moon landing.
Singh, who conducted the two heroes into Mrs Gandhi's room at her Parliament House office, recalled that the then US ambassador was also present. After photographers snapped the two astronauts with the prime minister and left the room, there was an awkward silence.
On being signalled by Mrs Gandhi to speak, Singh said, "Mr Armstrong, you will be interested to know that the prime minister kept awake till 4.30 am, so as not to miss the exact time of your lunar landing."
Singh recalled that Armstrong rose to the occasion, and said, "I apologise for the inconvenience we caused you, madame prime minister. Next time, I shall make sure that we land on the moon at a less unearthly hour".
July 20, 1969 became a watershed date in the history of mankind after Armstrong, commanding the Apollo 11 spacecraft landed on the moon, and accompanied by Aldrin spent nearly three hours walking on the moon.
After the Apollo 11's moon mission, Armstrong announced that he did not plan to fly in space again. Armstrong died on August 25 at the age of 82.