Aug. 26--Neil Alden Armstrong, the first human to walk on the moon and a giant of space exploration, died Saturday. He was 82.
According to his family, Armstrong died of complications following bypass surgery
Armstrong commanded the Apollo 11 spacecraft that landed on the moon July 20, 1969, and was the first astronaut to step outside. He was followed to the lunar surface by Buzz Aldrin.
"That's one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind," Armstrong radioed back to mission control in Houston.
The brazen and successful landing -- and subsequent return to Earth -- capped a hotly contested space race between the United States and the U.S.S.R. at the height of the Cold War, and vindicated President John F. Kennedy's promise to put a man on the moon within a decade.
"Neil was among the greatest of American heroes -- not just of his time, but of all time," President Barack Obama said Saturday. "When he and his fellow crew members lifted off aboard Apollo 11 in 1969, they carried with them the aspirations of an entire nation. 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. 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."
Perhaps when he walked on the lunar regolith, Armstrong believed he was taking humanity's first steps into the universe. But his feat is a spaceflight achievement NASA has yet to surpass in the 43 years and two months since.
When he returned to Earth, Armstrong wasn't entirely prepared for the crush of media attention and public adoration. He spent much of his life in a private manner, removed from the spotlight.
But toward the end of his life he began to change.
"Uncharacteristically, in the past two years, he was concerned that NASA was planning an approach to human spaceflight that did not meet his standards of adequate planning for ensuring crew safety, and was willing to say so publicly," said John Logsdon, a space historian and former director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University.
Since 2010, Armstrong had criticized NASA's slow progress toward building a new generation of rockets and spacecraft to carry humans beyond low-Earth orbit. He testified before Congress and lent his name to a number of letters.
'Our role model'
Among those Armstrong worked closely with in recent years was another lion of NASA's halycon Apollo days, Chris Kraft, the space agency's first flight director and the man for whom mission control at Johnson Space Center is named.
"He recognized ... that he had an obligation to help restore the American dream of keeping us a great nation and that the space program was one of the integral parts of that," Kraft said.
"In fact we talked about it quite often and tried to make sure we all were saying the right things together to bring us back to making it happen. In that respect, he was truly an American patriot."
For more than four decades Armstrong had been the face of what is arguably America's top technological triumph. In the spaceflight community, though, he was recalled quite differently.
"The whole world knew Neil as the first man to step foot on the moon, but to us he was a co-worker, a friend, and an outstanding spokesman for the Human Space Program," said former astronaut Mike Coats, who directs JSC. "His quiet confidence and ability to perform under pressure set an example for all subsequent astronauts. Our role model will be missed."
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