Famed U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first person to set foot on the moon, has died following complications from cardiovascular surgery, his family said Saturday. He was 82.
Mr. Armstrong underwent cardiac bypass surgery earlier this month after doctors found blockages in his coronary arteries.
Praising Mr. Armstrong as a “reluctant American hero,” his family said they were heartbroken and in a heartfelt tribute noted that the space pioneer had “served his nation proudly, as a navy fighter pilot, test pilot, and astronaut.”
“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 in a statement.
Mr. Armstrong and fellow Apollo 11 astronaut Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin landed on the moon on July 20, 1969, before the eyes of hundreds of millions of awed television viewers worldwide.
His first words upon stepping on the lunar surface have since been etched in history: “That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.”
An estimated 500 million people watched the grainy black and white broadcast that showed Mr. Armstrong, clad in a white space suit, climb down the lunar module’s ladder onto the Moon’s desolate surface.
As commander of the Apollo 11 mission, it was also Mr. Armstrong who had notified mission control that the module had made a successful landing. “Houston, Tranquility base here. The Eagle has landed.”
But the lunar pioneer, who was decorated by 17 countries and received a slew of U.S. honors, was never comfortable with his worldwide fame, shying away from the limelight.
Mr. Armstrong even stopped signing memorabilia after learning his autographs were being sold at exorbitant prices.
Born in Wapakoneta, Ohio on August 5, 1930, Mr. Armstrong had an early fascination with aircraft and worked at a nearby airport when he was a teenager.
He took flying lessons at the age of 15 and received his pilot’s license on his 16th birthday.
A US Navy aviator, he flew 78 missions in the Korean War.
He studied Aeronautical Engineering at Purdue University in Indiana, and later earned a Master of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Southern California.
After serving as a naval aviator from 1949 to 1952, Mr. Armstrong joined NASA’s predecessor agency, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, in 1955.
He served as an engineer, test pilot, astronaut and administrator for NACA and later NASA over the next 17 years.
As a research pilot at NASA’s Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, he flew on many pioneering high-speed aircraft, eventually flying over 200 different models, including helicopters, gliders, jets and rockets.
He reached astronaut status in 1962, and was assigned as command pilot for the Gemini 8 mission, during which he performed the first successful docking of two vehicles in space.
After retiring from NASA in 1971, Mr. Armstrong taught aerospace engineering at the University of Cincinnati for nearly a decade and served on the boards of several companies, including Lear Jet, United Airlines and Marathon Oil.
Mr. Armstrong also served as deputy associate administrator for aeronautics at NASA headquarters, coordinating and managing the space agency’s aeronautics research and technology work.
His family said they had a simple request to people in memory of Armstrong’s life.
“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,” it said.