Astronaut Neil A. Armstrong, who in 1969 took a “small step” to become the first human to set foot on the moon, has died at the age of 82.
Armstrong, who described his first steps on the lunar surface as a “giant leap for all mankind,” died on Saturday (Aug. 25). He had undergone coronary bypass surgery on Aug. 7, two days after his 82nd birthday. Armstrong’s death was confirmed in a statement by his family.
“Neil Armstrong has passed away following complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures,” his family wrote on the website neilarmstronginfo.com. “Neil was our loving husband, father, grandfather, brother and friend.”
Selected with NASA’s second group of astronauts in 1962, Neil Armstrong first flew in space as the command pilot of the Gemini 8 mission in March 1966. On the sixth crewed flight of NASA’s two-seater capsule, Armstrong and pilot David Scott achieved the first docking of two spacecraft in orbit, linking up with an unmanned Agena target vehicle.
But the flight was a near disaster, suffering the first critical in-space failure of a U.S. spacecraft after a stuck thruster set the Gemini spacecraft spinning. Armstrong ultimately regained control by using their re-entry system thrusters, steadying the spacecraft and forcing an early, but safe end to the mission.
Three years later, as spacecraft commander for Apollo 11, the first manned lunar landing mission, Armstrong gained the distinction of being the first man to land a craft on the moon and the first to step on its surface.
“He was the best, and I will miss him terribly,” Apollo 11 command module pilot Michael Collins said in a statement released by NASA.
Armstrong’s first words upon becoming the first person to step onto another planetary body on July 20, 1969 — “That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind” — instantly became a part of history.
Together with lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin (then Edwin Aldrin), Armstrong explored the Sea of Tranquility during a 2 hour, 36 minute moonwalk. He and Aldrin collected 48.5 pounds (22 kilograms) of lunar material, including 50 moon rocks, deployed science experiments and planted the U.S. flag.
A plaque attached to their lunar lander “Eagle” read in part “We came in peace for all mankind,” which underscored that Armstrong and Aldrin were there as representatives of all humans.
“My friend Neil took the small step but giant leap that changed the world and will forever be remembered as a landmark moment in human history,” Aldrin said Saturday in a statement. “I had truly hoped that in 2019, we would be standing together along with our colleague Mike Collins to commemorate the 50th anniversary of our [Apollo 11] moon landing. Regrettably, this is not to be.”