Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong dies at 82

6:38 PM, Aug 25, 2012   |    comments
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Video: The Neil Armstrong Air and Space Museum

Video: ARCHIVE: Neil Armstrong takes first steps on the moon

Video: Neil Armstrong Speaks

Astronaut Neil Armstrong delivers remarks after being presented with the Congressional Gold Medal during a ceremony in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol November 16, 2011 in Washington, DC. Armstrong died Saturday, August 25 at the age of 82. (Getty Images)

(USA Today) -- Astronaut Neil Armstrong, who uttered one of history's most famous proclamations when he became the first man to walk on the moon in 1969, died Saturday.

Armstrong was commander of the Apollo 11 mission that made the first manned lunar landing on July 20, 1969. He had undergone heart surgery Aug. 8, three days after his 82nd birthday. His family said that Armstrong had passed from post-surgery complications.

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As he stepped off the lunar module and set foot on the moon's surface, he said "that's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,'' underscoring a centuries-old fantasy among human kind and a high point in the Cold War era space race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. An estimated 500 million TV viewers watched the event, televised in grainy, black-and-white.

The notoriously publicity shy Armstrong was a reluctant hero. In an era of celebrity adulation, Armstrong refused to sign autographs or grant interviews, giving only infrequent speeches. "I don't want a living memorial,'' he once said. He reluctantly joined fellow Apollo 11 astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins in anniversary celebrations of the moon landing.

Armstrong flew Navy fighter jets during the Korean War, flying nearly 80 missions and later became a test pilot before joining the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, becoming one of its first astronauts. Armstrong commanded Gemini 8 in 1966, which suffered near disaster until he used a back-up system to stop an uncontrolled capsule spin and made an emergency landing in the Pacific Ocean.

Armstrong's prowess was again demonstrated following the moon landing, when it was later revealed that lunar module had just 20 seconds of fuel left when he steered to avoid large boulders before touching down in the Sea of Tranquility.

Born in tiny Wapakoneta, Ohio, Armstrong took his first flight as a six year old, fueling a lifetime passion for aviation. The lunar landing made him more popular than his hero, aviator Charles Lindberg, but Armstrong shunned the spotlight.

After walking on the moon, he lived a mostly private life, teaching aerospace engineering at the University of Cincinnati and later becoming chairman of Virginia-based Computer Technologies for Aviation.

(USA Today)

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