Neil Armstrong, who made the “giant leap for mankind” as the
first human to set foot on the moon, died on Saturday. He was 82.
His family said in a statement that the cause was “complications resulting from
cardiovascular procedures.” He had undergone heart bypass surgery this month in
Cincinnati, near where he lived. His recovery had been going well, according to
those who spoke with him after the surgery, and his death came as a surprise to
many close to him, including his fellow Apollo astronauts. The family did not
say where he died.
A quiet, private man, at heart an engineer and crack test pilot, Mr. Armstrong
made history on July 20, 1969, as the commander of the Apollo 11 spacecraft on
the mission that culminated the Soviet-American space race in the 1960s.
President John F. Kennedy had committed the nation “to achieving the goal,
before the decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely
to Earth.” It was done with more than five months to spare.
On that day, Mr. Armstrong and his co-pilot, Col. Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., known as
Buzz, steered their lunar landing craft, Eagle, to a level, rock-strewn plain
near the southwestern shore of the Sea of Tranquillity. It was touch and go the
last minute or two, with computer alarms sounding and fuel running low. But they
“Houston, Tranquillity Base here,” Mr. Armstrong radioed to mission control.
“The Eagle has landed.”
“Roger, Tranquillity,” mission control replied. “We copy you on the ground.
You’ve got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a
The same could have been said for hundreds of millions of people around the
world watching on television.
A few hours later, there was Mr. Armstrong bundled in a white spacesuit and
helmet on the ladder of the landing craft. Planting his feet on the lunar
surface, he said, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
(His words would become the subject of a minor historical debate, as to whether
he said “man” or an indistinct “a man.”)
Soon Colonel Aldrin joined Mr. Armstrong, bounding like kangaroos in the low
lunar gravity, one sixth that of Earth’s, while the command ship pilot, Michael
Collins, remained in orbit about 60 miles overhead, waiting their return. In
all, 12 American astronauts walked on the moon between then and the Apollo 17
mission in 1972.
The Apollo 11 mission capped a tumultuous and consequential decade. The ’60s in
America had started with such promise, with the election of a youthful
president, mixed with the ever-present anxieties of the cold war. Then it
touched greatness in the civil rights movement, only to implode in the years of
assassinations and burning city streets and campus riots. But before it ended,
human beings had reached that longtime symbol of the unreachable.
The moonwalk lasted 2 hours and 19 minutes, long enough to let the astronauts
test their footing in the fine and powdery surface — Mr. Armstrong noted that
his boot print was less than an inch deep — and set up a television camera and
scientific instruments and collect rock samples.
After news of Mr. Armstrong’s death was reported, President Obama, in a
statement from the White House, said, “Neil was among the greatest of American
“And when Neil stepped foot on the surface of the moon for the first time,” the
president added, “he delivered a moment of human achievement that will never be
Charles F. Bolden Jr., the current NASA administrator, said, “As long as there
are history books, Neil Armstrong will be included in them, remembered for
taking humankind’s first small step on a world beyond our own.”
Mr. Bolden also noted that in the years after the moonwalk, Mr. Armstrong
“carried himself with a grace and humility that was an example to us all.” The
historian Douglas Brinkley, who interviewed Mr. Armstrong for a NASA oral
history, described him as “our nation’s most bashful Galahad.” His family called
him “a reluctant hero who always believed he was just doing his job.”
Indeed, some space officials have cited these characteristics, as well as his
engineering skills and experience piloting X-15 rocket planes, as reasons that
Mr. Armstrong stood out in the astronaut corps. After the post-flight parades
and a world tour for the three Apollo 11 astronauts, Mr. Armstrong gradually
withdrew from the public eye. He was not reclusive, but as much as possible he
sought to lead a private life, first as an associate administrator in the space
program, then as a university professor and director of a number of
Neil Alden Armstrong was born on Aug. 5, 1930, in the small town of Wapakoneta,
Ohio, to Stephen Armstrong and the former Viola Louise Engel. His father was a
state auditor, which meant the family moved every few years to a new Ohio town
while Neil was growing up. At the age of 6, Neil and his father took a ride in a
Ford Trimotor airplane, known as the Tin Goose. It must have made an impression,
for by the time he was 15, he had learned to fly, even before he got his
Neil became an Eagle Scout when the family later moved back to Wapakoneta, where
he finished high school. (The town now has a museum named for Mr. Armstrong.)
From there, he went to Purdue University as an engineering student on a Navy
scholarship. His college years were interrupted by the Korean War, in which Mr.
Armstrong was a Navy fighter pilot who flew 78 combat missions, one in which he
was forced to eject after the plane lost one of its ailerons, the hinged
flight-control panels on the wings.
In “First Man: The Life of Neil Armstrong,” James R. Hansen wrote that in Mr.
Armstrong’s first year at Purdue, Charles E. Yeager broke the sound barrier in
the rocket-powered Bell X-1. It was exciting but bittersweet for the young
student. He thought aviation history had already passed him by.
“All in all, for someone who was immersed in, fascinated by, and dedicated to
flight,” Mr. Armstrong told his biographer, “I was disappointed by the wrinkle
in history that had brought me along one generation late. I had missed all the
great times and adventures in flight.”
During the Korean War, Mr. Armstrong was in the unit that the author James A.
Michener wrote of in “The Bridges at Toko-Ri.” Back at Purdue after the Navy,
Mr. Armstrong plunged more earnestly into aeronautical engineering studies, his
grades rising and a career in sight.
By this time, he had also met Janet Elizabeth Shearon, a student in home
economics from Evanston, Ill. Soon after his graduation, they were married, in
They had two sons, Eric and Mark, who survive. A daughter, Karen, died of an
inoperable brain tumor in 1962. The couple were divorced in 1994; Janet
Armstrong lives in Utah. In 1999, Mr. Armstrong married Carol Knight, a widow 15
years his junior; she also survives. They lived in Indian Hill, a suburb of
Other survivors include a stepson and stepdaughter; a brother, Dean; a sister,
June Armstrong Hoffman, and 10 grandchildren.
After his first marriage, the newlyweds moved to California, where Mr. Armstrong
had been hired as an experimental test pilot for the National Advisory Committee
on Aeronautics, the forerunner of the National Aeronautics and Space
Administration, at Edwards Air Force Base. His first flight in a rocket plane
was in the Bell X-1B, a successor to the plane Mr. Yeager had first flown faster
than the speed of sound.
Mr. Armstrong impressed his peers. Milt Thompson, one of the test pilots, said
he was “the most technically capable of the early X-15 pilots.” Another
colleague, Bill Dana, said he “had a mind that absorbed things like a sponge and
a memory that remembered them like a photograph.” He made seven X-15 flights at
4,000 miles per hour, reaching the edge of space, and piloted many more of the
most innovative and dangerous aircraft ever developed.
In 1958, Mr. Armstrong was chosen as a consultant for a military space plane
project, the X-20 Dyna-Soar, and was later named one of the pilots. But the
young test pilot was attracted by another opportunity. NASA was receiving
applications for the second group of astronauts, after the Mercury Seven. His
reputation after seven years at the NASA flight center at Edwards had preceded
him, and so he was tapped for the astronaut corps.
“I thought the attractions of being an astronaut were actually, not so much the
Moon, but flying in a completely new medium,” Mr. Armstrong told his biographer.
At Houston, the new astronaut began training for flights in the two-person
Gemini spacecraft, the successor to the smaller Mercury capsules and forerunner
to the three-person Apollos. Mr. Armstrong became the first American civilian
astronaut to fly in space, as commander of Gemini 8. He and his co-pilot, David
R. Scott, were launched on March 16, 1966. They performed the first successful
docking of two vehicles in space, their Gemini linking with an unmanned Agena in
an essential test for later operations on lunar flights.
Once docked, however, the joined spacecraft began to roll. Attempts to steady
the vehicle were unavailing. On instructions from Mission Control, Mr. Armstrong
separated Gemini from the Agena, but the rolling only increased, to the point
that the astronauts were in danger of passing out. The problem was evidently in
the Gemini itself. The astronauts turned the control thrusters off, switching to
the re-entry control system. Stability was restored, but once the re-entry
propulsion was activated, the crew was told to prepare to come home before the
end of their only day in orbit.
Next, Mr. Armstrong was the backup commander for Apollo 8, the first flight to
circumnavigate the Moon, doing so at Christmastime in 1968. It was the mission
that put Apollo back on track after a cockpit fire during a launching pad
rehearsal had killed three astronauts in January 1967. And it put Mr. Armstrong
in position to command Apollo 11.
If everything went well with the lunar module test on Apollo 9 and with a
shakedown flight to lunar orbit on Apollo 10, then Mr. Armstrong was in line to
land on the Moon with Buzz Aldrin and with Michael Collins as the command module
pilot. As the commander, NASA officials decided, Mr. Armstrong would be the
first to walk on the Moon.
About six and a half hours after the landing, Mr. Armstrong opened the hatch of
the four-legged lunar module and slowly made his way down the ladder to the
lunar surface. A television camera followed his every step for all the world to
see. A crater near the landing site is named in Mr. Armstrong’s honor.
Mr. Armstrong and Colonel Aldrin left a plaque on the Moon that read: “Here men
from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon. July 1969 A.D. We came in
peace for all mankind.”
After leaving the space program, Mr. Armstrong was careful to do nothing to
tarnish that image or achievement. Though he traveled and gave speeches — as he
did in October 2007, when he dedicated the new Neil Armstrong Hall of
Engineering at Purdue — he rarely gave interviews and avoided the spotlight.
In the biography “First Man,” Dr. Hansen noted, “Everyone gives Neil the
greatest credit for not trying to take advantage of his fame, not like other
astronauts have done.” To which Janet Armstrong responded: “Yes, but look what
it’s done to him inside. He feels guilty that he got all the acclaim for an
effort of tens of thousands of people.” Then she added: “He’s certainly led an
interesting life. But he took it too seriously to heart.”
For a time, he was an associate NASA administrator for aeronautics, but he tired
of a Washington desk job. Ignoring many high-level offers in business and
academia, he returned to Ohio as a professor of aeronautical engineering at the
University of Cincinnati and bought a farm near Lebanon, Ohio. He also served as
a director for several corporations.
“He remained an advocate of aviation and exploration throughout his life and
never lost his boyhood wonder of these pursuits,” his family said in the
Mr. Armstrong re-entered the public spotlight a couple of years ago to voice
sharp disagreement with President Obama for canceling NASA’s program to send
astronauts back to the Moon. Later, he testified to a Senate committee,
expressing skepticism that the approach of relying on commercial companies would
Last September, Mr. Armstrong testified to a House committee that NASA “must
find ways of restoring hope and confidence to a confused and disconsolate work
Almost as soon as the news of his death was announced, there was an outpouring
of well wishes and fond memorials on Web sites and social media, a reflection of
the extraordinary public acclaim that came to a very private man.
“As much as Neil cherished his privacy, he always appreciated the expressions of
good will from people around the world and from all walks of life,” his family
said. “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.”
John Schwartz contributed reporting.
Susan C. Beachy contributed
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: August 28, 2012
An obituary on Sunday about the astronaut Neil Armstrong
seeking an astronaut with 'no experience necessary'
WHEN Helen Sharman, the first Briton in space,
woke yesterday, she was standing on her head. “At the moment I am floating
around. Space is out of this world. It is absolutely wonderful,” she told her
parents John and Lyndis Sharman by radio from the Soyuz TM-12 capsule to flight
control centre at Kaliningrad near Moscow yesterday. By the time Miss Sharman
and her two-man crew dock with the Mir space station, scheduled for 3.25pm
British time today, the sun will have risen and set for the Sheffield
confectionery scientist an estimated 33 times as she spins round the world 16
times a day.
In the run-up to the flawless launch from Baikonur in the desert of Soviet
central Asia on Saturday, Miss Sharman had made her eight-day mission seem
little more than a trip to Scarborough. But in space she was overwhelmed by
wonder. An official had to ask her to stop staring out of the window and get on
with some work. The blue horizon and bright flashes of rivers and lakes on earth
were so much better than any pictures, she told her parents.
Miss Sharman’s responsibilities are controlling heating, communications and a
television system to beam pictures back to Earth.
The boosters on the Soyuz are being fired to take the craft to an altitude of
between 367 and 385 kilometres for its rendezvous with Mir.