Neil Armstrong, the Apollo astronaut who became the first man to walk on the moon, has died. In a statement, his family said he had passed away following “complications from cardiovascular procedures.” He was 82.
When the 38-year-old Armstrong set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969, he boldly declared, “That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Earlier, after a precarious descent onto the lunar surface, Armstrong radioed back, “Houston, Tranquility base here. The Eagle has landed.”
“Roger, Tranquility,” a mission control official replied. “We copy you on the ground. You’ve got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a lot.”
After a precarious descent onto the lunar surface, Armstrong radioed back, “Houston, Tranquility base here. The Eagle has landed.”
A Navy fighter pilot who had flown 78 missions over Korea, Armstrong joined NASA’s forerunner, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, after earning an an aeronautical engineering degree from Purdue University in 1955.
Armstrong was in NASA’s second astronaut class and made his initial flight in 1966 aboard Gemini XVIII, a harrowing flight that was aborted hours into its three-day schedule when a malfunctioning thruster sent it out of orbit. Armstrong, who brought the spacecraft to an emergency landing in the Pacific Ocean, was praised for handing the crisis. Three years later, he was named commander of the mission to the moon.
There were more tense moments during the Apollo 11 mission when Armstrong took over manual control of the lunar module, passing craters and boulders to safely land with only about 20 seconds of fuel left. Mission control in Houston was on the verge of telling him to abort the landing. He later said that was the high point of the mission for him as crewmate Buzz Aldrin called out speed and altitude.
Armstrong and Aldrin spent nearly three hours walking on the lunar surface, collecting samples, conducting experiments and taking photographs before returning to the spacecraft manned by Michael Collins 60 miles overhead.
After returning to earth a hero, Armstrong remained an intensely private person and rarely made public appearances. He left NASA and taught engineering at the University of Cincinnati and later served on the boards of several aerospace firms.
One of his rare public appearances was at a gathering with Aldrin and other Apollo astronauts to mark the 30th anniversary of their moon landing. “In my own view, the important achievement of Apollo was a demonstration that humanity is not forever chained to this planet, and our visions go rather further than that, and our opportunities are unlimited,” Armstrong said.
“I can honestly say — and it’s a big surprise to me — that I have never had a dream about being on the moon,” Armstrong said.
In 2010, Armstrong went public with his concerns about the direction of the space program. In sharp language, Armstrong called Presidents Obama’s plans For NASA “devastating” to the U.S. space program and worried that it “destines our nation to become one of second- or even third-rate stature.” Aldrin supported the president’s plans to make over NASA.
The New York Times reports that while announcing the top 20 engineering achievements of the 20th century as voted by the National Academy of Engineering in 2000, Armstrong admitted there was one disappointment relating to his moonwalk.
“I can honestly say — and it’s a big surprise to me — that I have never had a dream about being on the moon,” he said.