Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, has died. He was 82.
“We are heartbroken to share the news that Neil Armstrong has passed away following complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures,” his family said in a statement Saturday, according to ABC News.
The statement describes the astronaut as “our loving husband, father, grandfather, brother and friend,” and also as “a reluctant American hero who always believed he was just doing his job.”
Armstrong made history when he set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969. “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” Armstrong, who was the commander of the Apollo 11 mission, famously said when he first set foot on the moon’s surface – as a captivated American public watched and heard him on TV.
Although Armstrong became the world famous with those steps, he remained a very private man. According to James Hansen,author of First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong, the space pioneer was puzzled by the fuss made over him. “All of the attention that … the public put on stepping down that ladder onto the surface itself, Neil never could really understand why there was so much focus on that,” Hansen told CBS.
Early Interest in Flying
Born in Wapakoneta, Ohio, in 1930, Armstrong was 6 when his father first took him for a ride in a Ford Trimotor plane, and only 15 when he earned his flight certificate after taking lessons at a county airport. He eventually earned on a Master of Science degree in engineering from the University of Southern California in 1970.
Armstrong also spent time in the Navy: He reported to Naval Air Station Pensacola in 1949, where he took flight training for about 18 months. Two weeks after his 20th birthday in 1950, he was a fully qualified naval aviator. From there, he flew Navy fighter jets during the Korean War.
His ‘One Small Step’
It was at 10:56 p.m. ET when Armstrong made history. At age 38, he was the first earthling to set foot on the moon, after a nearly 250,000-mile, four-day journey aboard Apollo 11 with fellow astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins.
Armstrong stayed on the moon’s surface for about two and half hours. Aldrin, who followed his colleague, spent about 15 minutes less than that, CNN recalled.
Armstrong’s historical journey came just a few years after flying into space in 1966 as commander of the Gemini 8 mission. This trip nearly ended in disaster when a thruster on Armstrong’s craft got stuck open, sending the ship spinning through space. He ended up making an emergency landing in the Pacific Ocean.
Following his trip to the moon, Armstrong worked for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), until 1971, when he resigned and taught engineering at the University of Cincinnati for nearly a decade.
On Saturday, Buzz Aldrin remembered Armstrong as his partner in flight and good friend.
“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,” Aldrin said in a statement. “Virtually the entire world took that memorable journey with us. I know I am joined by millions of others in mourning the passing of a true American hero and the best pilot I ever knew.”
His family said Saturday that they hoped Armstrong’s life would serve as an inspiration to others.
“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,” they said.
“For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request,” the family added. “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.”