Astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, passed away today at the age of 82, following complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures, according to a statement from the family.
Armstrong was an astronaut well before the Apollo missions, having been in command of Gemini VIII, which performed the first successful docking maneuver in space. Before that, he was a test pilot at NASA’s Flight Research Center.
But it was the Apollo 11 mission that put Armstrong squarely in the spotlight as he became the first human to ever walk on an extra-planetary surface, stepping out of the Eagle lunar module and uttering those famous words: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Armstrong and co-pilot Buzz Aldrin spent the first of many hours on the moon in the culmination of a space race with the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War. Even knowing the Soviets were competing, Armstrong still took time to leave behind a patch commemorating both American astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts who had died in the space service. Of his time on the moon, Armstrong once said, “The sights were simply magnificent, beyond any visual experience that I had ever been exposed to.”
Following the successful return of the Apollo 11 crew, Armstrong went into relative obscurity, eschewing the limelight and falling pretty much into the background of space history. He moved on to Deputy Associate Administrator for Aeronautics, where he coordinated NASA’s research and technology work.
“I am, and ever will be, a white socks, pocket protector, nerdy engineer,” he said in February 2000 in one of his rare public appearances. “And I take a substantial amount of pride in the accomplishments of my profession.” But in 2010 Armstrong publicly voiced concerns about President Obama’s policy with regard to the space program, testifying before Congress and saying he had “substantial reservations” about the President’s emphasis on private sector space programs and a move away from going back to the moon.
Former Senator John Glenn, himself an astronaut, once said, “To this day, he’s the one person on Earth, I’m truly, truly envious of.”