Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon, dead at 82
Published Saturday, August 25, 2012 3:34PM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, August 25, 2012 5:47PM EDT
Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, has died at the age of 82.
The former astronaut was recovering from a recent heart surgery.
A statement from his family said he died following complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures. The statement did not say where he died.
Armstrong commanded the Apollo 11 spacecraft that landed on the moon on July 20, 1969.
After setting foot on the surface of the moon, he spoke the famous words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” a moment that was broadcast around the world to an estimated 600 million people.
He spent nearly three hours walking on the moon with fellow astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, collecting samples, taking photographs and conducting experiments.
While on the moon, during the height of the heated space race with the Soviet Union, Armstrong left a patch to commemorate NASA astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts who had died in action.
Earlier this year, he told an Australian television interviewer, “It was special and memorable but it was only instantaneous because there was work to do."
During the interview Armstrong said, “Now and then I miss the excitement about being in the cockpit of an airplane and doing new things."
Shortly following the news of his death, several of the astronaut’s colleagues and friends spoke of the impact Armstrong had on the space program.
"Neil Armstrong was a very personal inspiration to all of us within the astronaut office,” said NASA chief Bob Behnken. “His historic step onto the moon's surface was the foundation for many of our personal dreams to become astronauts. The only thing that outshone his accomplishments was his humility about those accomplishments.”
Aldrin took to Twitter to express his sympathies.
“On behalf of the Aldrin family we extend our deepest condolences to (wife) Carol & the entire Armstrong family on Neil's passing. He will be missed,” Aldrin tweeted.
Michael Collins, who served as the command pilot on the Apollo 11 mission, said, “He was the best, and I will miss him terribly.”
Despite the fame that surrounded the astronaut following the moon landing, Armstrong described himself as a “white socks, pocket protector, nerdy engineer,” during a February 2000 appearance.
He added, “And I take a substantial amount of pride in the accomplishments of my profession.”
Before becoming an astronaut Armstrong was in the U.S. Navy and served in the Korean War, where he flew 78 combat missions.
After the war, Armstrong finished a degree from Purdue University and later earned a master's degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Southern California.
He became a test pilot at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics and in 1962 he joined the NASA Astronaut Corps.
His first spaceflight was the NASA Gemini 8 mission in 1966.
Armstrong subsequently held the position of deputy associate administrator for aeronautics at NASA’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. In this position, he was responsible for the co-ordination and management of overall NASA research and technology work related to aeronautics.
After holding the position for one year he left to teach aerospace engineering at the University of Cincinnati.
He stayed with the university until 1979 and during that time bought a 310-acre farm near Lebanon, Ohio, where he raised cattle and grew corn.
“He led a fairly quiet life in the background. He was a very humble sort of individual,” former Canadian astronaut Bjarni Tryggvason told CTV News Channel on Saturday. “He’s going to be in the history books forever, but his attitude was very gracious.”
While he often stayed away from the spotlight, in 2010 Armstrong raised concerns about the U.S. government’s space policy that put an emphasis on private companies developing spaceships.
He testified before Congress, and in an email to The Associated Press said he had "substantial reservations." He also signed a letter, along with more than two dozen Apollo-era veterans, calling the plan a "misguided proposal that forces NASA out of human space operations for the foreseeable future."
A statement released by the White House Saturday evening hailed Armstrong as one of the country’s greatest heroes.
U.S. President Barack Obama said when Armstrong set foot on the moon he delivered "a moment of human achievement that will never be forgotten."
Obama added that Armstrong and the rest of the crew of Apollo 11 carried with them the aspirations of an entire nation in the 1969 space mission.
Armstrong married Carol Knight in 1999, and the couple lived in Indian Hill, a Cincinnati suburb. He had two adult sons from a previous marriage.
At the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles on Saturday, visitors observed a minute of silence in his memory.
His family's statement made a simple request for anyone else who wanted to remember him: "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."
Armstrong was born in Wapakoneta, Ohio, on Aug. 5, 1930.
With files from The Associated Press