Children in Annandale, Va., watch Neil Armstrong become the first man to walk on the moon in 1969. Photo by O. Louis Mazzatenta/National Geographic.
Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon, died Saturday, according to a family statement. He was 82 and lived in Cincinnati.
Armstrong had undergone a heart bypass surgery earlier this month to relieve blocked coronary arteries. The recovery seemed to be going well, according to the New York Times, and his death “came as a surprise to many close to him, including his fellow Apollo astronauts.”
The commander of the Apollo 11 mission, Armstrong touched down on the rock-strewn lunar surface on July 20, 1969. As an estimated 600 million people worldwide watched the grainy images in a live broadcast, he stepped onto the moon and he said, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
“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, ” Mr. Obama said. “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.”
“I am very saddened to learn of the passing of Neil Armstrong today. Neil and I trained together as technical partners but were also good friends who will always be connected through our participation in the Apollo 11 mission. 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.”
Armstrong, described by his family as a “reluctant hero” lived a relatively private life. He worked briefly as an assistant administrator at NASA, then as a university professor of aerospace engineering and the director of various corporations, but rarely made public appearances.
But he went public several times to promote the importance of spaceflight and space exploration. He served on a panel to investigate the accident that nearly destroyed Apollo 13 in 1970 and to investigate the explosion of the Challenger shuttle in 1986. In 2010, Armstrong made an appearance to oppose President Obama’s plans to scrap NASA’s Constellation program, which was aimed at returning astronauts to the moon.
You can see some of that testimony here:
“America is respected for its contributions it has made in learning to sail on this new ocean, ” Armstrong said. “If the leadership we have acquired through our investment is simply allowed to fade away, other nations will surely step in where we have faltered. I do not believe that would be in our best interest.”
For more, here is NewsHour’s curated ‘reading list’ of Armstrong’s life and legacy:
Stay tuned for more in-depth coverage of Armstrong’s death from the PBS NewsHour.
Photo credit: A person walks by a plate dedicated to US astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin E. Aldrin and Michael Collins on Hollywood, California’s Hollywood Boulevard on August 25, 2012, the day that Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon in 1969, died. Photo by Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images.