Saturday, August 25, 2012

Neil Armstrong, First Man on the Moon, Is Dead at 82

Neil Armstrong, First Man on the Moon, Is Dead at 82

NASA/Associated Press
Neil Armstrong, photographed inside the lander after the moonwalk on July 20, 1969. More Photos »

Neil Armstrong, a quiet, self-described nerdy engineer who became a global hero when he made “one giant leap for mankind” with a small step on to the moon, died Saturday. He was 82.
The front page of The New York Times from July 21, 1969. More Photos »

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Mr. Armstrong died after complications from cardiovascular procedures, according to a statement from his family. The statement did not say where he died. He lived in Cincinnati.
Mr. Armstrong commanded the Apollo 11 spacecraft that landed on the moon on July 20, 1969, capping the most daring of the 20th century’s scientific expeditions. His first words after setting foot on the surface are etched in history books and the memories of those who heard them in a live broadcast.
“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” Mr. Armstrong said.
In those first moments on the moon, during the climax of the heated space race with the Soviet Union, Mr. Armstrong stopped in what he called “a tender moment” and left a patch commemorating NASA astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts who had died in action.
“It was special and memorable, but it was only instantaneous because there was work to do,” he told an Australian television interviewer in 2012.
Mr. Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, who was known as Buzz, spent nearly three hours walking on the lunar surface, collecting samples, conducting experiments and taking photographs.
The moonwalk marked America’s victory in the cold war space race that began on Oct. 4, 1957, with the launching of the Soviet Union’s Sputnik 1, a 184-pound satellite that sent shock waves around the world.
Although he had been a Navy fighter pilot, a test pilot for NASA’s forerunner and an astronaut, Mr. Armstrong never allowed himself to be caught up in the celebrity and glamour of the space program.
“I am, and ever will be, a white socks, pocket protector, nerdy engineer,” he said in February 2000 in a rare public appearance. “And I take a substantial amount of pride in the accomplishments of my profession.”
A man who kept away from cameras, Mr. Armstrong went public in 2010 with his concerns about President Obama’s space policy that shifted attention away from a return to the moon and emphasized private companies developing spaceships.
He testified before Congress, and in an e-mail to The Associated Press, Mr. Armstrong said he had “substantial reservations,” and along with more than two dozen Apollo-era veterans, he signed a letter calling the plan a “misguided proposal that forces NASA out of human space operations for the foreseeable future.”
When he appeared in Dayton, Ohio, in 2003 to help celebrate the 100th anniversary of powered flight, he bounded onto a stage. But he spoke for only a few seconds, did not mention the moon and quickly ducked out of the spotlight.
He later joined the former astronaut and senator John Glenn to lay wreaths on the graves of Wilbur and Orville Wright. Mr. Glenn introduced Mr. Armstrong and noted it was 34 years to the day of the moon walk.
“Thank you, John. Thirty-four years?” Armstrong quipped, as if he had not given it a thought.
Mr. Armstrong’s moonwalk capped a series of accomplishments that included piloting the X-15 rocket plane and making the first space docking during the Gemini 8 mission, which included a successful emergency splashdown.
In the years afterward, he retreated to the quiet of the classroom and his southwest Ohio farm. Mr. Aldrin said in his book “Men from Earth” that Mr. Armstrong was one of the quietest, most private men he had ever met.
Derek Elliott, curator of the Smithsonian Institution’s U.S. Air and Space Museum from 1982 to 1992, said the moonwalk probably marked the high point of space exploration.
The manned lunar landing was a boon to the prestige of the United States and re-established its pre-eminence in science and technology, Mr. Elliott said.
“The fact that we were able to see it and be a part of it means that we are in our own way witnesses to history,” he said.
The 1969 landing met an audacious deadline that President John F. Kennedy had set in May 1961, shortly after Alan Shepard became the first American in space with a 15-minute suborbital flight. The Soviet cosmonaut Yuri A. Gagarin had orbited the Earth and beaten the United States into space the previous month.
“I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth,” the president had said. “No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important to the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”
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