Neil Armstrong

In war-torn Afghanistan, astronomer sees hope and promise in the study of the heavens

Afghan amateur astronomer

Ibrahim Amiri was finishing a hamburger one day in 2011 when a headline in the newspaper wrapping caught his eye.

He had to read it a second time to make sure he wasn't dreaming. But it was true: Neil Armstrong, one of his lifelong heroes, and two other Apollo astronauts were visiting Afghanistan to rally U.S. troops.

Amiri, an amateur astronomer who had built his own telescope out of spare parts as a teenager, tried to contact the U.S. Embassy to arrange a meeting. But it was too late: The astronauts had left.

Still, he didn't let disappointment set in. He saw it as a sign that validated a fascination with the stars that began during his childhood in a refugee camp in...