The first man on the moon dies at age 82

Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon, has died at age 82. According to his family, he died of complications from a heart-bypass surgery to unblock four coronary arteries he underwent earlier this month. Already, the tributes to him have begun, with President Obama remarking “Neil Armstrong was a hero not just of his time, but of all time… That legacy will endure — sparked by a man who taught us the power of one small step.”

Mitt Romney said of his passing, “”Neil Armstrong today takes his place in the hall of heroes. The moon will miss its first son of earth.” Neil DeGrasse Tyson tweeted, “No other act of human exploration ever laid a plaque saying, ‘We came in peace for all mankind,'”

Armstrong’s remark upon landing on the moon – “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” – is one of the most well-known phrases in the English language. The Apollo 11 mission which sent Armstrong and fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin to become the first humans to walk on another world was arguably one of the biggest events of the 20th century. It represented the culmination of America’s efforts to fulfill John F. Kennedy’s pledge to reach the moon by 1969, beating the Soviet Union in the great space race of the 1960s. It also represented a source of unity and pride for an America that had been torn apart by the wholesale social revolutions of the late 1960s, and in particular the dramatic upheavals of the year prior.

For his achievement, Armstrong received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, the Congressional Gold Medal, numerous schools, streets, and even an asteroid named for him, and one of the best dinner conversation subjects ever:

For all of that, however, Armstrong shied away from the limelight and deflected and rejected the accolades heaped upon him. Armstrong often described himself as a “nerdy engineer”, and gave credit for the success of Apollo 11 to the thousands of other engineers, technicians, and workers who helped make the mission possible. He stayed well away from the media, letting his comrade Buzz Aldrin steal the show and make celebrity guest appearances. If he spoke out publicly at all, it was always about America’s space programs. Former NASA spokesman Dave Garrett said of him, “Howard Hughes had nothing on him.”

Armstrong was born in Wapakoneta, Ohio, on August 5, 1930. He was hooked on flying from age 6, when he took his first plane ride; the young Armstrong got his flight certificate before his driver’s licence. He attended Purdue University and received a degree in aeronautical engineering. He served in the Navy as an aviator from 1949 to 1952, and became an experimental research test pilot in 1955. It was here he first achieved notoriety as one of the pilots of the experimental X-15, one of the fastest and highest-flying planes in the world at the time.

Armstrong’s piloting career had a number of near-death experiences. In the Korean War, Armstrong narrowly survived being shot down near Wonsan. As a test pilot, he survived an engine exploding, a landing gear breaking, and a near-crash into a dry lake bed.

He married Janet Elizabeth Shearon in 1956 and had three children with her, but his daughter Karen was diagnosed with cancer in 1961 and died of pneumonia brought on by complications from the cancer in 1962. Armstrong divorced in 1994 and remarried that same year, this time to Carol Held Knight.

1962 was also the year Armstrong applied to become a part of America’s astronaut program. Four years later, he flew as part of the Gemini 8 mission, which was to attempt to dock with an unmanned spacecraft in orbit. While docked, one of the thrusters malfunctioned and the spacecraft began to roll, and when Armstrong undocked the ship its spin increased dramatically. To save the ship, crew, and mission, Armstrong initiated re-entry procedures and made a hurried splashdown landing in the Pacific Ocean. Luckily, everyone survived, and Armstrong was able to make a flight without incident on the Gemini 11.

With all of those close calls, it is a wonder that Armstrong survived to make the Apollo 11 moon landing. Apollo 11 would also be his last spaceflight. In 1970, Armstrong retired and became an aeronautics teacher at the University of Cincinnati, where he taught until 1979. He did not disappear completely from NASA, however; he participated in accident investigations for Apollo 13 and the Challenger disaster.

America will miss one of its great, and most humble, national heroes. His family, on announcing his death, told the press “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.”

Information from Wikipedia.

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