Neil Armstrong: 1930-2012 Space hero captivated the world First man on moon took 'one giant leap'
CINCINNATI — Neil Armstrong was a soft-spoken engineer who became a global icon when, as a steely-nerved pilot, he made “one giant leap for mankind” with a small step onto the moon.
The modest man, who had people on Earth entranced and awed from almost a quarter-million miles away, but credited others for the feat, died Saturday. He was 82.
Armstrong died following complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures, his family said in a statement.
Armstrong had a bypass operation this month, according to NASA.
His family did not say where he died; he had lived in suburban Cincinnati.
Armstrong commanded the Apollo 11 spacecraft that landed on the moon on July 20, 1969, capping the most daring of the 20th century's scientific expeditions.
His first words after becoming the first person to set foot on the surface are etched in history books and the memories of those who heard them in a live broadcast.
“That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong insisted later that he had said “a” before man, but said he too couldn't hear it in the version that went to the world.
In those first few moments on the moon, during the climax of a heated space race with the then-Soviet Union, Armstrong stopped in what he called “a tender moment” and left a patch to commemorate NASA astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts who had died in action.
“It was special and memorable but it was only instantaneous because there was work to do,” Armstrong told an Australian television interviewer this year.
Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin spent nearly three hours walking on the lunar surface, collecting samples, conducting experiments and taking photographs.
“The sights were simply magnificent, beyond any visual experience that I had ever been exposed to,” Armstrong once said.
College of Charleston astronomy professor Bob Dukes was in college in Tuscon, Ariz., when Armstrong made his historic step. Dukes remembers sitting with a friend, transfixed, as they watched the scene play out on a grainy black and white television.
“It was so exciting. We had been anticipating it for almost 10 years, watching it every step of the way,” he said. “If anyone had written a science fiction novel about it in the 1950s, it would have been too fantastic to believe, that so many people and so much money would have been involved in getting two men to the moon.”
The race to the moon galvanized the nation, and Armstrong became an unlikely and uncomfortable hero to many.
“It was a time in our history that hasn't been duplicated, and it's hard to explain to the current generation who didn't experience it,” Dukes said.
Terry Richardson, also an astronomy professor at the College of Charleston, agreed.
“I don't know anybody I knew back then who wasn't watching when it happened.”
Richardson, who was in graduate school at the University of South Carolina at the time, said people looked up to Armstrong and his fellow astronauts as national heroes. “They were held in high esteem all over the country because of all the tremendous risks they took.”
Charleston astronomy buff Kevin Bourque was 10 years old when the landing occurred, but he could name every astronaut in the space program and all the space crafts they traveled in. Seeing Armstrong set foot on the moon was an indescribable thrill, particularly because he was a civilian.
“I remember being completely amazed, but at the same time it was completely expected” because every step in the space program had been leading up to that point, he said.
“It just seemed like we were ready to do anything at that point,” said Bourque, a former adjunct astronomy professor.
The moonwalk marked America's victory in the Cold War space race that began Oct. 4, 1957, with the launch of the Soviet Union's Sputnik 1, a 184-pound satellite that sent shock waves around the world.
Although Armstrong had been a Navy fighter pilot, a test pilot for NASA's forerunner and an astronaut, he never allowed himself to be caught up in the celebrity and glamour of the space program.
Armstrong was born Aug. 5, 1930, on a farm near Wapakoneta in western Ohio. He took his first airplane ride at age 6 and developed a fascination with aviation that prompted him to build model airplanes and conduct experiments in a homemade wind tunnel.
As a boy, he worked at a pharmacy and took flying lessons. He was licensed to fly at 16, before he got his driver's license.
Armstrong enrolled in Purdue University to study aeronautical engineering, but was called to duty with the Navy in 1949 and flew 78 combat missions in Korea.
After the war, Armstrong finished his degree from Purdue and later earned a master's degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Southern California. He became a test pilot with what evolved into the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, flying more than 200 kinds of aircraft from gliders to jets.
Glenn Smith contributed to this report.