(NEW YORK) — Neil Armstrong, the astronaut who became the first to walk on the moon as commander of Apollo 11, has died. He was 82 years old.
A statement from his family confirms he died after complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures.
He was born in the small town of Wapakoneta, Ohio, on Aug. 5, 1930.
On July 20, 1969, half a billion people — a sixth of the world’s population at the time — watched a ghostly black-and-white television image as Armstrong backed down the ladder of the lunar landing ship Eagle, planted his left foot on the moon’s surface, and said, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Twenty minutes later his crewmate, Buzz Aldrin, joined him, and the world watched as the men spent the next two hours bounding around in the moon’s light gravity, taking rock samples, setting up experiments, and taking now-iconic photographs.
“Isn’t this fun?” Armstrong said over his radio link to Aldrin. The third member of the Apollo 11 crew, Michael L. Collins, orbited 60 miles overhead in the mission’s command ship, Columbia. President Richard Nixon called their eight-day trip to the moon “the greatest week in the history of the world since the Creation.”
After Armstrong’s astronaut career, he served for a few years as a NASA manager in Washington and was appointed to the panels that investigated the Apollo 13 accident and the Challenger disaster. He also declined almost all requests for interviews and stopped giving autographs when people sold them for thousands of dollars.
A few personal details emerged: He suffered a minor heart attack in 1991. His wife Jan divorced him in 1994 and he soon married Carol Knight. In 2005 his authorized biographer, James R. Hansen, wrote, “Neil Armstrong today seems to be a very happy man — perhaps happier than at any other time in his life.”
Armstrong said he did not want to be an icon, remembered only for that one-week trip he made in 1969. He did appear at the White House to mark major anniversaries of Apollo 11, and when he did he urged America to go on exploring.
“There are great ideas undiscovered, breakthroughs available to those who can remove one of truth’s protective layers,” he said in 1994. “There are places to go beyond belief.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Aaron Smith, CNN
Thom Patterson, CNN