Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the Moon died today from complications stemming from recent cardiac bypass surgery – he was 82. Armstrong was dubbed a ‘reluctant hero’ because he avoided the public spotlight. Armstrong’s soft-spoken demeanor carried much weight and, in the words of NASA Administrator Charles Bolden: “as long as there are history books, Neil will be included in them.”
Armstrong was admitted into the hospital on Aug. 7 after he failed a stress test. Surgeons then bypassed four blockages in his coronary arteries. Afterward doctors reported that they saw no issues. Armstrong celebrated his 82 birthday Aug. 5.
Prior to joining NASA’s astronaut corps, Armstrong was a U.S. Naval Aviator, serving in the Korean War. Afterward he joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the forerunner of NASA at what would one day become NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center located in California, where he flew more than 900 flights in a wide range of aircraft.
During the ramp up to the “Space Race,” Armstrong participated in both the U.S. Air Force’s Man In Space Soonest program as well as the X-20 and X-15 space plane programs. Although X-20 was cancelled before the first spacecraft was assembled, the X-15 project allowed Armstrong to ride a rocket-powered vehicle for the first time.
Video courtesy of NASA
Armstrong first flew into orbit during the Gemini Program atop a Titan rocket. On Gemini 8, he and David Scott docked with the Agena target which was launched one day prior to the Gemini 8 crew on Aug. 16. The other mission objective was to conduct an Extra-Vehicular Activity or EVA – this, however, was not to be.
A malfunctioning thruster caused their Gemini 8 spacecraft to spin faster and faster – forcing Armstrong, the mission’s commander, to abort the mission. Armstrong’s cool handling of the issue would bring him to the attention of NASA officials – and on the road to history.
Armstrong, along with Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins, would thunder into legend when they launched on Apollo 11 – the first manned mission to send astronauts to the surface of another world. Armstrong’s iconic words, “That’s one small step for man…one giant leap for mankind.” – have entered the world’s lexicon.
Armstrong spent approximately two and a half hours on the Moon before he and Aldrin returned to the Lunar Module dubbed “Eagle.”
In 1971 Armstrong left NASA to pursue a career teaching at the University of Cincinnati’s Department of Aerospace Engineering where he taught for eight years.
Despite working to take himself out of the limelight he was repeatedly lauded for his lunar achievement. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Richard Nixon after his final space flight, the Congressional Space Medal of Honor by President Jimmy Carter in 1978 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2009.
Through it all Armstrong remained humble, removing himself from the public eye so as to preserve the historic nature of his singular accomplishment – one which often left him confused. He has been quoted as stating that the attention given to him left him overwhelmed, that he wanted to be remembered more as an aviator and less as the “Moon Man.”
Kennedy Space Center Director Robert Cabana, a four-time space shuttle astronaut, issued the following statement in a NASA press release:
“Neil Armstrong was a true American hero, and one of the nicest gentlemen around. He was the epitome of what an engineering test pilot should be, and a role model for everyone who aspired to be an astronaut,” Cabana said. “He always took the time to share his thoughts on technical issues and his experiences from the past. I feel very privileged to have known him. He will be missed.”
Upon his return from the Moon, Armstrong stopped signing autographs and became more and more reclusive. He rarely made public statements – which worked to add weight to his words.
From 2010 to the present, he, along with fellow moonwalkers Eugene Cernan and Jim Lovell, repeatedly spoke out against attempts by the Obama Administration to cancel NASA’s human spaceflight program and its return to the Moon.
Armstrong’s passing comes shortly after the death of Sally Ride, the first American woman to fly into space, and Alan Poindexter, both flew on the space shuttle and both passed away in July of this year.
Armstrong’s family issued to following statement:
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.