Neil Armstrong was a quiet self-described nerdy engineer who became a global hero when as a steely-nerved pilot he made “one giant leap for mankind” with a small step on to the moon. The modest man who had people on Earth entranced and awed from almost a quarter million miles away has died. He was 82.
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An undated photo provided by NASA shows Neil Armstrong.
Armstrong commanded the Apollo 11 spacecraft that landed on the moon July 20, 1969, capping the most daring of the 20th century’s scientific expeditions.
Apollo 11 Astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., are aboard the spacecraft, as it lifts off the pad at Cape Kennedy, Fl., July 17, 1969. Armstrong and Aldrin became the first men to walk on the Moon.
Neil Armstrong’s first words after setting 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 (a) man, one giant leap for mankind,” Armstrong said.
In this July 20, 1969 file photo, a footprint left by one of the astronauts of the Apollo 11 mission shows in the soft, powder surface of the moon. Commander Neil A. Armstrong and Air Force Col. Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin Jr. became the first men to walk on the moon after blastoff from Cape Kennedy, Fla., on July 16, 1969.
In those first few moments on the moon, during the climax of 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.
This July 20, 1969 file photo provided by NASA shows Neil Armstrong shortly after his historic walk on the moon.
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.
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 he had been a Navy fighter pilot, a test pilot for NASA’s forerunner and an astronaut, Armstrong never allowed himself to be caught up in the celebrity and glamor of the space program. “I am, and ever will be, a white socks, pocket protector, nerdy engineer,” he said in February 2000 in one of his rare public appearances. “And I take a substantial amount of pride in the accomplishments of my profession.”
In 2000, when he agreed to announce the top 20 engineering achievements of the 20th century as voted by the National Academy of Engineering, Armstrong said there was one disappointment relating to his moonwalk. “I can honestly say — and it’s a big surprise to me — that I have never had a dream about being on the moon,” he said.
“He didn’t give interviews, but he wasn’t a strange person or hard to talk to,” said Ron Huston, a colleague at the University of Cincinnati. “He just didn’t like being a novelty.” Those who knew him said he enjoyed golfing with friends, was active in the local YMCA and frequently ate lunch at the same restaurant in Lebanon.
At the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles on Saturday, visitors held a minute of silence in memory of Armstrong.