Neil Armstrong, first man on moon, dies
Neil Armstrong radioed back to Earth the historic news of "one giant leap for mankind."
The Washington Post
Moonwalkers12 men walked on the moon between 1969 and 1972
• Neil Armstrong. Apollo 11, 1969.
• Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin. Apollo 11, 1969.
• Charles "Pete" Conrad. Apollo 12, 1969.
• Alan Bean. Apollo 12, 1969.
• Alan Shepard. Apollo 14, 1971.
• Edgar Mitchell. Apollo 14, 1971.
• David Scott. Apollo 15, 1971.
• James Irwin. Apollo 15, 1971.
• John Young, Apollo 16, 1972.
• Charles Duke Jr. Apollo 16, 1972.
• Eugene Cernan. Apollo 17, 1972.
• Harrison "Jack" Schmitt. Apollo 17, 1972.
The Associated Press
Neil Armstrong, the astronaut who marked an epochal achievement in exploration with "one small step" from the Apollo 11 lunar module on July 20, 1969, becoming the first person to walk on the moon, died Saturday near Cincinnati. He was 82.
His family announced the death and attributed it to "complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures."
He had undergone heart-bypass surgery this month in Cincinnati, near Indian Hill, where he lived.
In a statement from the White House, President Obama said: "Neil was among the greatest of American heroes. ... And when Neil stepped foot on the surface of the moon for the first time," the president added, "he delivered a moment of human achievement that will never be forgotten."
A taciturn engineer and test pilot who was never at ease with his fame, Mr. Armstrong was among the most admired Americans of the 1960s Cold War space race. "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," he is famous for saying as he stepped on the moon, an indelible quotation beamed to a worldwide audience in the hundreds of millions.
Twelve years after the Soviet satellite Sputnik reached space first, alarming U.S. officials, and after President Kennedy in 1961 declared it a national priority to land an American on the moon "before this decade is out," Mr. Armstrong, a former Navy fighter pilot, commanded the NASA crew that finished the job.
His trip to the moon — particularly the hair-raising final descent — was history's boldest feat of aviation. Yet what the experience meant to him, what he thought of it all on an emotional level, he mostly kept to himself.
Like his boyhood idol, transatlantic aviator Charles Lindbergh, Mr. Armstrong learned how uncomfortable the intrusion of global acclaim can be. And just as Lindbergh had done, he shied away from the public.
Mr. Armstrong was "exceedingly circumspect" from a young age, and the glare of international attention "just deepened a personality trait that he already had in spades," said his authorized biographer, James Hansen, a former NASA historian.
In an interview, Hansen, author of "First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong," cited another "special sensitivity" that made the first man on the moon a stranger on Earth.
"I think Neil knew that this glorious thing he helped achieve for the country back in the summer of 1969 — glorious for the entire planet, really — would inexorably be diminished by the blatant commercialism of the modern world," Hansen said. "And I think it's a nobility of his character that he just would not take part in that."
A love of flying
The perilous, 195-hour journey that defined Mr. Armstrong's place in history — from the liftoff of Apollo 11 on July 16, 1969, to the capsule's splashdown in the Pacific eight days later — riveted the world's attention.
As Mr. Armstrong, a civilian, and his crewmates, Air Force pilots Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin Jr. and Michael Collins, hurtled through space, television viewers around the globe witnessed a drama of spellbinding technology and daring. About a half-billion people listened to the climactic landing and watched a flickering video feed of the moonwalk.
At center stage, cool and focused, was a pragmatic, 38-year-old astronaut who would let social critics and spiritual wise men dither over the larger meaning of his voyage. When Mr. Armstrong occasionally spoke publicly about the mission in later decades, he usually did so dryly, his recollections mainly operational.
"I am, and ever will be, a white-socks, pocket-protector, nerdy engineer," he said at a millennial gathering honoring the greatest engineering achievements of the 20th century. Unlike Aldrin and Collins, Mr. Armstrong never published a memoir.
After flying experimental rocket planes in the 1950s at Edwards Air Force Base in California — the high-desert realm of daredevil test pilots later celebrated in author Tom Wolfe's "The Right Stuff" — Mr. Armstrong was selected for NASA's astronaut corps in 1962 and became the first U.S. civilian to be blasted into space.
In 1966, during his only spaceflight other than Apollo 11, a life-threatening malfunction of his Gemini 8 vehicle caused the craft to tumble out of control in Earth orbit. It was the nation's first potentially fatal crisis in space, prompting Mr. Armstrong and his crewmate to abort their mission and carry out NASA's first emergency re-entry.
His skill and composure were put to no greater test, though, than in the anxious minutes starting at 4:05 p.m. Eastern time Sunday, July 20, 1969. That was when the lunar module carrying Mr. Armstrong and Aldrin, having separated from the Apollo 11 capsule, began its hazardous, 9-mile final descent to the moon's Sea of Tranquility.
Collins, in lunar orbit, could only wait.
The lunar module, or LM ("lem"), was dubbed "Eagle." Its computer, overtaxed during the descent and flashing alarm lights as it fell behind on its work, guided the spiderlike craft most of the way to the surface.
In the last few thousand feet, however, Mr. Armstrong, looking out a window, saw that the computer had piloted Eagle beyond its targeted landing spot. The craft was headed for a massive crater surrounded by boulders as big as cars.
Mr. Armstrong, as planned, took manual control of the LM at 500 feet. Standing in the cramped cockpit, piloting with a control stick and toggle switch, he maneuvered past the crater while scanning the rugged moonscape for a place to safely put down.
Although the world remembers him best for walking on the moon, Mr. Armstrong recalled his time on the surface as anticlimactic. Flying the LM was "by far the most difficult and challenging part" of the mission, he told a group of youngsters in a 2007 email exchange.
"Pilots take no particular joy in walking," he once said. "Pilots like flying."
"The Eagle has landed"
As he and Aldrin kept descending, balanced on a cone of fire 240,000 miles from Earth, the LM's roaring engine kicked up a fog of moon dust, distorting Mr. Armstrong's depth perception and clouding his view of the surface.
Meanwhile, the descent engine's fuel — separate from the fuel that would later power the ascent engine on the departure from the moon — dwindled to a critical level.
"Quantity light," Aldrin warned at just under 100 feet. This meant that Mr. Armstrong, according to NASA's instruments, had less than two minutes to ease the LM to the surface or he would have had to abort the descent or risk a crash.
With 50 seconds to spare, the world heard Aldrin say, "Contact light," and Eagle's landing gear settled on the lunar soil.
Humanity listened, transfixed. "Houston, Tranquility base here," Mr. Armstrong reported. "The Eagle has landed."
About 6 ½ hours later, Mr. Armstrong, soon to be followed by Aldrin, climbed down the ladder outside the LM's hatch as a TV camera mounted on the craft transmitted his shadowy, black-and-white image to hundreds of millions of viewers.
As his boots touched the lunar surface at 10:56:15 p.m. Eastern time, the world heard: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
The ultimate mission
Neil Alden Armstrong was born on Aug. 5, 1930, in Wapakoneta, Ohio, to Stephen Armstrong and the former Viola Louise Engel. At 6, his father and Neil took a ride in a Ford Trimotor airplane. It must have made an impression, for by the time he was 15, he had learned to fly, before he got his driver's license.
After a few semesters at Purdue University, he left for Navy flight training in 1949, eventually becoming the youngest pilot in his fighter squadron on the aircraft carrier USS Essex. He flew 78 combat missions in the Korean War and was shot down once before his tour ended and he went back to Purdue.
After earning an aeronautical-engineering degree in 1955, he joined NASA's forerunner, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, and was soon rocketing in the stratosphere.
In 1959, at the beginning of the Mercury project, which would soon blast the first American into space, NASA chose its storied "original seven" astronauts from the ranks of active-duty military fliers. Mr. Armstrong, who was less than enthusiastic about the program, remained at Edwards as a civilian test pilot.
In 1962, his 2-year-old daughter, Karen, died of brain cancer. Not long after her death, when NASA recruited its second group of astronauts, about 250 test pilots applied, and Mr. Armstrong was among the nine who made the cut.
A very private life
After weeks of hoopla surrounding Apollo 11's return — a ticker-tape parade, a presidential dinner, a 28-city global goodwill tour — Mr. Armstrong worked in NASA management for two years and then joined the University of Cincinnati's engineering faculty.
"We were not naive, but we could not have guessed what the volume and intensity of public interest would turn out to be," he said of his celebrity.
In the ensuing decades, Mr. Armstrong, a solitary figure, warded off reporters' efforts to penetrate his privacy until most gave up or lost interest. Unhappy with faculty unionism, he resigned from the university in 1979 and spent the rest of his working life in business, amassing personal wealth as an investor and a member of corporate boards.
Hansen, now an aerospace historian at Auburn University, said Mr. Armstrong felt awkward taking credit for the collective success of 400,000 employees of the space agency and its Apollo contractors.
He was not a recluse, as some labeled him. In 1986, for instance, he was vice chairman of the commission that investigated the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger.
His 38-year marriage to the former Janet Shearon ended in divorce in 1994. Later that year, he married Carol Knight, a widowed mother of two teenagers. Besides his wife, survivors include two sons from his first marriage, Eric and Mark; two stepchildren; a brother; a sister; and 10 grandchildren.
"Looking back, we were really very privileged to live in that thin slice of history where we changed how man looks at himself, and what he might become, and where he might go," Mr. Armstrong said in a 2001 NASA oral history project. "So I'm very thankful."
Material from The Associated Press and The New York Times is included in this report.