Neil Armstrong, who as commander of the Apollo 11 mission in July 1969 was the first person to step foot on the moon, died at age 82. The cause was complications following cardiovascular surgery, according to a statement from his family.
As the first member of the human race to step foot on an extraterrestrial body, Armstrong turned from test pilot into a global icon with the simple, but moving statement, "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."
Armstrong was born Aug. 5, 1930 in Wapakoneta, Ohio. He started working with NASA in 1955, after years as a naval aviator. By 1962, he became an astronaut, a year after President John F. Kennedy said, "I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish."
According to his NASA bio, Armstrong "was assigned as command pilot for the Gemini 8 mission. Gemini 8 was launched on March 16, 1966, and Armstrong performed the first successful docking of two vehicles in space."
Then, as part of the Apollo 11 mission, Armstrong stepped onto the moon on July 20, 1969, followed by Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin joined him. They spent almost three hours on the moon's surface. Here's audio of the mission, and, below, video:
The moon landing was one of the first events to unify a global television audience, with millions around the world tuning in to watch Armstrong and Aldrin to make their bold strides for humanity. Here's a look at how CBS News and Walter Cronkite covered the event that effectively ended the Space Race between the United States and Soviet Union:
After Apollo 11, Armstrong stayed with NASA as a deputy associate administrator for aeronautics in Washington. He later taught at University of Cincinnati and was chairman of Computing Technologies for Aviation, Inc. in Virginia.
But he remained an active observer of the United States' space program, and publicly feuded with the White House over its downscaling of NASA's exploratory missions.
"We will have no American access to, and return from, low Earth orbit and the International Space Station for an unpredictable length of time in the future," he said last yearupon the conclusion of the Space Shuttle program. "For a country that has invested so much for so long to achieve a leadership position in space exploration and exploitation, this condition is viewed by many as lamentably embarrassing and unacceptable."
In a statement, President Obama said Armstrong was "among the greatest of American heroes—not just of his time, but of all time." Though Armstrong and Obama differed on the direction of U.S. space policy, Armstrong's legacy is indelible.
"They set out to show the world that the American spirit can see beyond what seems unimaginable—that with enough drive and ingenuity, anything is possible," Obama said. "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."
Armstrong's most famous colleague, Aldrin, remembered him as a "very capable commander" in an interview with BBC News.
"I was fortunate enough to be one of those crew members and fly with an outstanding test pilot," Aldrin said.
And Armstrong's recent disagreements with NASA's agenda aside, the space agency will never forget his contributions to human exploration of the stars.
"As long as there are history books, Neil Armstrong will be included in them, remembered for taking humankind's first small step on a world beyond our own," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a news release. "As we enter this next era of space exploration, we do so standing on the shoulders of Neil Armstrong. We mourn the passing of a friend, fellow astronaut and true American hero."
In their statement, Armstrong's relatives said: "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."
In his interview with the BBC, Aldrin lamented that Armstrong would not be around to mark Apollo 11's 50th anniversary in 2019. But Armstrong, Aldrin and the mission's third crew member, Michael Collins, regularly came together to celebrate the anniversaries of their intrepid flight.
Here are Armstrong's remarks from the 40th anniversary of the mission:
Benjamin R. Freed contributed reporting.