Neil Armstrong, the first man to step onto the surface of the moon, died Saturday from heart-surgery related complications. He was 82.
It was more than 40 years ago that Armstrong uttered the now-iconic words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” forever sealing his place in history.
He spoke the words just before stepping onto the moon, effectively ending the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Neil Alden Armstrong was born on Aug. 5, 1930 in Wapakoneta, Ohio. His love of flying began at age 2 when his father took him to the Cleveland Air Races.
Throughout his childhood, while his family moved from one small Ohio town to another, Armstrong’s interest in flying grew. He read countless fiction and non-fiction books on aviation.
After high school, Armstrong entered a special US Navy program that allowed him to complete his first year and a half at Purdue University before being called up for naval service where he flew a number of missions during the Korean War.
Following his service in the US Navy, Armstrong earned a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering and became an experimental research test pilot, flying a variety of airplanes and jets, including the famous X-15 rocket powered aircraft.
In June of 1962, Armstrong learned NASA was looking for its second group of astronauts. He submitted his application, but it arrived about a week after the applications were due. Fortunately for Armstrong, an old friend working at NASA’s Manned Spacecraft center saw his late-arriving application and slipped it into the group of applications being considered.
Armstrong first flew into space on March 16, 1966, as command pilot for the two-man Gemini 8 mission. At the time, it was the most complex manned space flight attempted by NASA. Gemini 8 was the first US space mission to rendezvous and dock with another spacecraft, an unmanned vehicle called the Agena. Armstrong later served as a back-up command pilot for the Gemini 11 mission.
In April 1967, Armstrong was selected for NASA’s Apollo program, placing him among a group of astronauts bound for the moon.
After serving as back-up commander for Apollo 8, the mission that first orbited the moon in 1968, Armstrong was teamed up with fellow astronauts, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins for the Apollo 11 mission, which put the first man on the moon.
On July 16, 1969, Armstrong, – along with crewmates Aldrin and Collins – climbed into the space capsule, nicknamed Columbia. Powered by the monstrous Saturn V launch vehicle, Apollo 11 lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center for its 384,000 kilometer trip to the moon.
Four days later, on July 20, 1969, Armstrong and Aldrin took the lunar module known as the “Eagle,” for a trip from the orbiting command module to the surface of the moon.
About seven hours after the Eagle landed at the Sea of Tranquility, Armstrong climbed down the Eagle’s ladder and onto the surface of the moon.
The world celebrated as they watched Armstrong and Aldrin do what most thought was impossible – walk on the moon.
After spending about 21 hours on the lunar surface, the Eagle left the moon to rendezvous with the command module for the trip back to Earth. Apollo 11’s historic mission ended with a splash into the North Pacific Ocean on July 24, 1969.
Shortly after the Apollo 11 flight, Armstrong announced he would not return to space.
After NASA, Armstrong taught at the University of Cincinnati (Ohio), served on the board of directors of several major corporations and was chairman of the EDO Corporation, which designed and manufactured products used in defense, intelligence, and commercial industries. He retired from EDO in 2002.
Armstrong was selected to serve on panels investigating both the Apollo 13 accident in 1970 and, later, the 1986 space shuttle Challenger disaster.
A few weeks ago, Armstrong underwent surgery to relieve blocked coronary arteries. He died Saturday from complications related to the procedure surgery.
Buzz Aldrin, who piloted the Apollo 11 lunar module, said of Armstrong’s passing, “I am very saddened to learn of the passing of Neil Armstrong today. Neil and I trained together as technical partners but were also good friends who will always be connected through our participation in the Apollo 11 mission. Whenever I look at the moon it reminds me of the moment over four decades ago when I realized that even though we were farther away from Earth than two humans had ever been, we were not alone.”
Video montage produced by NASA in 2009 for the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 trip to the moon and back.
A statement released by Armstrong’s family after his death, summed it up this way, “[he was a] reluctant American hero [and had] served his nation proudly, as a navy fighter pilot, test pilot, and astronaut… 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.”