Neil A. Armstrong, who publicly confronted death at least twice before he and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin famously touched down on the moon on July 20,1969, as the commander and lunar excursion module pilot on Apollo 11, has died. He was 82.
News of Armstrong’s death, released by his family Aug. 25 from Cincinnati quickly resounded around the world -- much as did his first words directed to Earth from the moon as Eagle, the Apollo lander he guided, settled to the lunar surface at the Sea of Tranquility.
“Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed,” Armstrong announced to’s Mission Control, with a global audience of millions tuned in and hanging on to every exchange. “You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue,” responded Mission Control. “We’re breathing again.”
Armstrong’s death was linked to complications from heart by-pass surgery on Aug. 7, a day after he failed a stress test and two days after his latest birthday, according to a statement from his wife, Carol, and other family members, including two sons, a step son and step daughter, 10 grandchildren, and a brother and sister.
``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,” according to the family statement. “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.’’
Armstrong emerged from the historic eight-day Apollo 11 mission much as he entered, reluctant to place himself center stage, eager to honor his Midwestern heritage and devoted to engineering.
In death, though, Armstrong was richly remembered.
“Neil was among the greatest of American heroes - not just of his time, but of all time,” President Barack Obama said in a prepared statement. “When he and his fellow crew members lifted off aboard Apollo 11 in 1969, they carried with them the aspirations of an entire nation. And when Neil stepped foot on the surface of the moon for the first time, he delivered a moment of human achievement that will never be forgotten,” said Obama. “Today, Neil’s spirit of discovery lives on in all the men and women who have devoted their lives to exploring the unknown - including those who are ensuring that we reach higher and go further in space. That legacy will endure - sparked by a man who taught us the enormous power of one small step.”
During their single spacewalk, Armstrong and Aldrin gathered nearly 48 pounds of lunar rock during a lunar surface stay that spanned just over 21 hours. Command Module pilot Michael Collins circled overhead, waiting for the two men to join him in Eagle and return to Earth.
“Besides being one of America’s greatest explorers, Neil carried himself with a grace and humility that was an example to us all,” saidAdministrator Charles Bolden. “When President Kennedy challenged the nation to send a human to the moon, Neil Armstrong accepted without reservation.”
There was a personal side to Armstrong, of course, revealed skillfully in his official biography, First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong, written by James R. Hansen, the Auburn University historian. Then a budding test pilot at Edwards AFB, Calif., Armstrong struggled with the pain of his infant daughter’s death a few months before he applied to NASA’s astronaut corps in 1962 as well as a late-in-life divorce from his first wife and college sweetheart, Janet.
Armstrong was intensely private, comfortable to let the policy and decision makers in and outside of the space agency, the engineers as well as his fellow astronauts take or share the credit for the pioneering lunar explorations.
When summoned to the White House or asked to testify before Congress on the significance of human exploration, however, Armstrong didn’t hesitate to urge the nation on. But he shunned opportunities to profit from his accomplishments, even to sign autographs for those who sought to penetrate his privacy.
Armstrong launched into space only twice.
In March 1966, the former civilian X-15 test pilot and naval aviator commanded Gemini VIII with co-pilot David Scott. The two men achieved the world’s first docking of two spacecraft, a milestone fundamental to the more complex Apollo flights. After the linkup with the Agena target vehicle, the two spacecraft began to gyrate, an unexpected outcome later traced to a flight control system electrical short. Armstrong’s experienced hand delivered the two astronauts safely back to Earth after a greatly abbreviated flight.
Fourteen months before Apollo 11, he was forced to eject from a equally out of control lunar lander during a training exercise at what was then Ellington AFB, Texas, not far from NASA’sin Houston. Barely airborne and alone, Armstrong ejected just high enough to parachute to a landing
Armstrong left the astronaut corps shortly after the eight day Apollo 11 flight, serving as NASA’s deputy associate administrator for aeronautics in Washington before returning to Ohio. There, he joined the University of Cincinnati as a professor of aerospace engineering from 1971 to 1979.
He was a graduate of Purdue University in aerospace engineering and earned a master’s degree in the field from the University of Southern California.
Armstrong flew 78 combat missions as a U. S. Navy aviator during the Korean War. He joined NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, as a research pilot at the Lewis Laboratory in Cleveland after the conflict and later transferred to NACA’s High Speed Flight Station at Edwards.
“We are bidding farewell to one of our own,” said Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. “As a decorated Korean War veteran, as an astronaut for NASA, and as the first man to walk on the moon, Neil inspired generations of Americans to believe that as a nation we are capable of achieving greatness that only comes with determination, perseverance, and hard work.”