Armstrong inside the Apollo 11 lunar module after his historic spacewalk.NASA/Corbis
Aug. 25, 2012 — Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon and spaceflight legend, has died at the age of 82. According to a family statement, Armstrong suffered complications following "cardiovascular procedures." He underwent a heart by-pass surgery earlier this month two days after his birthday on Aug. 5.
The statement said that Armstrong was a "reluctant American hero who always believed he was just doing his job. He served his Nation proudly, as a navy fighter pilot, test pilot, and astronaut. He also found success back home in his native Ohio in business and academia, and became a community leader in Cincinnati."
On July 20, 1969, Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the moon, marking the historic event with his famous speech: "That's one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind." He was the first of only 12 Apollo astronauts to achieve this feat. Only eight moonwalkers are alive today.
Armstrong was the commander of the mission and was joined on the dusty lunar surface 20 minutes later by lunar module pilot Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin. Michael Collins, command module pilot, remained in orbit around the moon.
Apollo 11 was Armstrong's final mission into space. A year later, he left NASA, becoming a professor of engineering at the University of Cincinnati. He lived in the Cincinnati area with his wife Carol.
Although a private man, the former astronaut has been a vocal critic about NASA and its future, advocating a return to the moon and eventual manned missions to Mars, an endeavor he said was a "worthy challenge" for mankind. Armstrong also unveiled the new Discovery Channel Telescope at Lowell Observatory, near Flagstaff, Arizona, in July. This public appearance, promoting science and technology, was one of his last.
Buzz Aldrin has joined the world in remembrance of his Apollo 11 crewmate, remarking on their friendship and a "true American hero and the best pilot I ever knew."
"Whenever I look at the moon it reminds me of the moment over four decades ago when I realized that even though we were farther away from earth than two humans had ever been, we were not alone," said Aldrin.
Armstrong gives a NASA speech in 2011.NASA/Corbis
President Barack Obama paid tribute, saying that when Armstrong led Apollo 11 to the moon, he carried the aspirations of a nation with him. "Today, Neil's spirit of discovery lives on in all the men and women who have devoted their lives to exploring the unknown — including those who are ensuring that we reach higher and go further in space," Obama said in a White House statement. "That legacy will endure — sparked by a man who taught us the enormous power of one small step."
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden also remembered Armstrong, saying: "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. Besides being one of America's greatest explorers, Neil carried himself with a grace and humility that was an example to us all. When President Kennedy challenged the nation to send a human to the moon, Neil Armstrong accepted without reservation.
"As we enter this next era of space exploration, we do so standing on the shoulders of Neil Armstrong. We mourn the passing of a friend, fellow astronaut and true American hero."
Twitter exploded with remembrance for Armstrong with key space figures honoring the Apollo 11 commander. Elon Musk, CEO of Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), a company leading the way in commercial spaceflight, responded to the breaking news by tweeting, "Neil Armstrong was a hero to all of humanity. His spirit will carry us to the stars." Current U.S. astronaut Clayton Anderson also tweeted: "An iconic man, w/a wonderful legacy. True American hero. Godspeed; the Eagle has truly landed. RIP sir."
The family statement concluded with a request: "For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. 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."