ST. PETERSBURG, FL—Phurba Dorje, the lunar Sherpa guide who blazed the trail for the Apollo 11 astronauts and made it possible for Neil Armstrong to become the first white man to set foot on the moon, died peacefully in his sleep Monday in his Florida apartment. He was 71.
Dorje, whose career with the U.S. space program spanned more than a decade, carried provisions, equipment, and solid rocket fuel on 13 missions in the 1960s and 1970s, but is best known for guiding Armstrong and his crew to Tranquility Base in 1969.
“Without Phurba’s invaluable guidance and sturdy legs, I doubt we ever would have made it beyond Earth’s atmosphere,” Apollo 11 pilot Michael Collins said of the man who strapped the crew’s Passive Seismic Experiment Package to his back for all but the last 20 feet of the 238,855-mile journey. “He was a true hero and a wonderful cook.”
But the Onion is wrong: Dorje’s finest achievement was during Apollo 13*.
*But then, you can (seriously) say that about a goodly number of people.