Rest in space

Aug 27, 2012, 06:22 IST | Agencies

Neil Armstrong � first man ever to walk on the moon � passes away following heart surgery, 43 years after giant leap for mankind

Neil Armstrong, who took a giant leap for mankind when he became the first of a dozen Americans to walk the surface of the moon, died late Saturday night at age 82. “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” Armstrong said as he stepped onto the lunar surface on July 20, 1969 — words that have become among the most famous ever spoken in the English language.

Armstrong, a reluctant hero He was ‘a reluctant American hero who always believed he was just doing his job,’ his family said in a statement. Although he had been a Navy fighter pilot, a test pilot for NASA’s forerunner and an astronaut, the modest Armstrong never allowed himself to be caught up in the celebrity and glamour of the space program.

He died of complications from cardiovascular surgery performed earlier this month, his family said in a statement. “Whenever I look at the moon, it reminds me of the moment over four decades ago when I realised that, even though we were farther away from Earth than two humans had ever been, we were not alone,” said Buzz Aldrin, who stepped on to the moon 20 minutes after Armstrong. He called Armstrong “the best pilot I ever knew”. “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.

Doing the moon walk: Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin plant the US flag on the surface of the moon on July 20, 1969, an event that was witnessed by over 600 million people worldwide. File Pics/AFP

Work came first
Nearly 600 million people — a fifth of the world’s population — watched the grainy black-and-white TV transmission that showed Armstrong taking man’s first steps on a celestial body other than Earth. Armstrong said the initial thrill of accomplishment quickly passed. “It was special and memorable, but it was only instantaneous, because there was work to do,” he told Australian TV this year in a rare interview. He was a Navy fighter pilot and a NASA test pilot — jobs that required daring and skill. But Armstrong was a quiet man.

Armstrong “never transmits anything but the surface layer, and that only sparingly,” wrote Apollo 11 crewmate Michael Collins, who orbited the moon in the mission’s mother ship Columbia while Armstrong and Aldrin walked its surface. “I like him, but I don’t know what to make of him, or how to get to know him better,” Collins wrote. “He doesn’t seem willing to meet anyone halfway.” After the mission, Armstrong let Aldrin take the spotlight. He took a NASA desk job, and resigned from the agency in 1971.His family yesterday said he was “a reluctant American hero who always believed he was just doing his job.”

A modest nerd
He spent several years as an engineering professor at the University of Cincinnati before leaving to become an investor and member of corporate boards.“I am, and ever will be, a white-socks, pocket-protector, nerdy engineer,” he said in February 2000 in a rare public appearance. “And I take a substantial amount of pride in the accomplishments of my profession.” “For those who may ask what they can do to honour Neil, we have a simple request,” his family said in a statement yesterday.

“Honour 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.” Armstrong’s death was met by a wave of eulogies as people paid respect to both the man and his achievements as a space pioneer. “When I think of Neil, I think of someone who for our country was dedicated enough to dare greatly,” said John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth. “He showed a skill and dedication that was just exemplary. I’ll miss him not only for that but just as a close personal friend.”

NASA administrator Charles Bolden added in a statement: “As long as there are history books, Neil Armstrong will be included in them. Besides being one of America’s greatest explorers, Neil carried himself with grace and humility that was an example to us all.”

US President Barack Obama said, “Neil Armstrong was a hero not just of his time, but of all time.” US Presidential candidate Mitt Romney paid tribute to the former astronaut, tweeting: “Neil Armstrong today takes his place in the hall of heroes. The moon will miss its first son of earth.” Here’s to you, Neil. Enjoy your adventures in the next great beyond. 

Famous lost word in Armstrong’s ‘mankind’ quote
Was the walk on the moon one small step for man, or a man? Neil Armstrong's first words from the moon were heard all over Earth, and Earth heard this: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” But Armstrong said immediately after the 1969 landing that he had been misquoted. He said he actually said, “That’s one small step for ‘a’ man." It’s just that people just didn’t hear it.

A giant leap forward: Neil Armstrong’s right foot leaves a footprint in the lunar soil July 20, 1969 as he and Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin become the first men to set foot on the surface of the moon. File Pic/AFP

The astronaut acknowledged during a 30th anniversary gathering in 1999 that he didn’t hear himself say it either when he listened to the transmission from the July 20, 1969, moon landing. “The a was intended,” Armstrong said. “I thought I said it. I can’t hear it when I listen on the radio reception here on Earth, so I’ll be happy if you just put it in parentheses.”

The Stars and the Moon Man
Thanks Neil Armstrong for bringing the moon into our living rooms & curiosity into our minds. One giant loss for mankind.
— Ryan Seacrest

RIP Neil Armstrong. You made us believe in endless possibilities — in reaching for the stars. My Condolences.
— Priyanka Chopra

Neil Armstrong calls it a day. RIP ‘man on the moon’. One of the first western names we learnt in school.
— Siddharth

To Neil Armstrong, the man who boldly went where no man had gone before, a final Bon Voyage.
— Farhan Akhtar

Moon must be mourning the death of its first visitor. RIP Neil Armstrong
— Anupam Kher

Fly me to the moon....let me play among the stars..... RIP Neil Armstrong.
— Lara Dutta

There may be no American who taught us more about ourselves, and what we are capable of achieving, than Neil Armstrong.
— Joe Biden

RIP Neil Armstrong.
— Neil Nitin Mukesh 

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