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Neil Armstrong, First Man on the Moon, Dies at 82
Spacefaring pioneer Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the Moon as part of NASA’s historic Apollo 11 mission, died Saturday in Columbus, Ohio.
Spacefaring pioneer Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the Moon, died Saturday in Columbus, Ohio as a result of complications following heart-bypass surgery earlier this month. He was 82.
Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins served as the crew for NASA’s historic Apollo 11 mission in 1969, fulfilling the pledge made by U.S. President John F. Kennedy eight years earlier to land Americans on the Moon by the end of the decade. Armstrong, the commander of the Apollo 11 mission, and Aldrin, the lunar module pilot, landed in the Sea of Tranquility on July 20, 1969, while Collins remained in lunar orbit in the command module.
There are differing accounts of how Armstrong was selected over Aldrin to be the first to walk on the Moon. The official NASA statement on the matter was that the positioning of the hatch in the lunar module necessitated Armstrong exiting first, but other accounts indicate that NASA officials made the decision to have him take the historic first steps on the Moon several months prior to the mission.
Armstrong’s famous words uttered upon his arrival on the lunar surface have often been misrepresented. Though he said, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind,” due to the garbled radio relay to Earth, those words are commonly thought to have been the more rhythmic but ultimately nonsensical, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Tributes to Armstrong came pouring in over Twitter at the news of his death.
“Neil Armstrong was a hero not just of his time, but of all time. Thank you, Neil, for showing us the power of one small step,” tweeted President Barack Obama on his official Twitter account.
“Gabby and I are both sad to hear of the loss of Neil Armstrong. He was an icon of exploration and a great American. He will be missed,” tweeted space shuttle commander Mark Kelly, the husband of former Congresswoman and gun attack survivor Gabrielle Giffords.
Virgin mogul Richard Branson, an avid proponent of commercial space flight, added: “RIP Neil Armstrong. My first inspiration to try to make space travel possible for all. A hero for anyone who looks to the stars & dreams.”
A Storied Career
Born Aug. 5, 1930 in Wapakoneta, Ohio, Armstrong served as a Naval pilot during the Korean War, flying 78 missions. After the war, he attended Purdue University, where he met his first wife Janet Shearon, the mother of his three children. After his divorce from Janet, Armstrong married Carol Knight in 1994.
After college, Armstrong became an experimental test pilot, flying out of Edwards Air Force Base. Among his feats during this period was piloting an experimental X-15 rocket plane to an altitude of 207,500 feet in 1962.
Though he had been selected for the U.S. Air Force’s Man in Space Soonest program in 1958, Armstrong’s career as an astronaut truly began when he was selected as “the first civilian astronaut” for NASA’s Astronaut Corps. He would go on to participate in missions for both the Gemini and Apollo programs.
Armstrong was backup commander for Apollo 8, the first manned spacecraft to conduct a trip to the Moon, though it didn’t land. He was asked to command Apollo 11 during the actual flight of the Apollo 8 spacecraft, according to historian Craig Nelson.
The Apollo 11 mission began with the launch of a Saturn V rocket from the Kennedy Space Center on July 16, 1969. After separating from the rocket, the Apollo 11 crew traveled for three days across space to the Moon. After landing the lunar module, Armstrong and Aldrin spent just over 20 hours on the surface before lifting off and rejoining Collins in the command module. They three splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on July 24.
After Apollo 11, Armstrong taught at the University of Cincinnati for nearly a decade, became a spokesman for Chrysler, and served on the boards of several companies while leading a life that kept him largely out of the limelight as he grew older.
A Family Pays Tribute
Armstrong’s family released the following statement announcing his death:
“We are heartbroken to share the news that Neil Armstrong has passed away following complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures.
“Neil was our loving husband, father, grandfather, brother and friend.
“Neil Armstrong was also a reluctant American hero who always believed he was just doing his job. He served his Nation proudly, as a navy fighter pilot, test pilot, and astronaut. He also found success back home in his native Ohio in business and academia, and became a community leader in Cincinnati.
“He remained an advocate of aviation and exploration throughout his life and never lost his boyhood wonder of these pursuits.
“As much as Neil cherished his privacy, he always appreciated the expressions of good will from people around the world and from all walks of life.
“While we mourn the loss of a very good man, we also celebrate his remarkable life and hope that it serves as an example to young people around the world to work hard to make their dreams come true, to be willing to explore and push the limits, and to selflessly serve a cause greater than themselves.
“For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.”
By Damon Poeter, PCMag