US Astronaut Neil Armstrong dies aged 82

August 26, 2012 11:19 am

Former American astronaut, Neil Armstrong, the first human being to set foot on the moon, died yesterday aged 82 from complications following heart surgery earlier this year.

The Apollo 11 commander was hailed as being ‘among the greatest of American heroes’ by President Barack Obama. His death reduces the number of living men to have walked on the moon to 8.

Tributes flooded in from around the world, including from his former crew mates Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin, who made the historic flight with him in July 1969. Mr Aldrin said ‘It’s very sad that we’re not able to be together as a crew on the 50th anniversary of the mission…[I will remember him] as a very capable commander.’

Armstrong was born in rural Ohio in 1930 and took his first flight aged just six; he later served his country in the Korean War, flying US Navy aircraft in combat with the North Korean Air Force. He missed out on his first chance to fly in space, when the US military Manned Orbiting Laboratory programme he was part of, was cancelled. However,  he was subsequently selected to fly for NASA in 1962.

He almost met a premature end on the Gemini 8 mission he flew in March 1966 with fellow moonwalker David Scott, when a stuck maneuvering thruster on his spacecraft caused it to tumble uncontrollably. Thanks to a cool head and superb flying skills, Armstrong isolated the problem and performed a successful counter-movement, thus saving both his and Scott’s lives.

Contrary to popular belief, he was not particularly chosen to be the first man on the moon; this choice was down to a logical rotation of astronauts, which resulted in Armstrong being named as the commander of Apollo 11 in 1968, over twelve months before the historic landing.

A global audience of over half a billion people watched intently on July 20th 1969, as Armstrong descended the ladder of his Lunar Module Eagle and took the now famous ‘One giant leap.’ Armstrong and Aldrin spent around two hours exploring the Sea of Tranquillity and never strayed more than two hundred yards from their spacecraft, yet the event remains one of the most watched in human history.

Armstrong never flew in space again and left NASA in 1972 after a high-profile world tour, where they were celebrated as almost a living God,  in every country they visited. Yet, for the rest of his life he refused to submit to the attention his position had thrust upon him, remaining a ‘white socks, pocket protector, nerdy engineer.’

The aging icon rarely appeared in public but when he did, crowds flocked to bask in the presence of the first moon walker. In July 2009, Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins were once again pushed into the spotlight for the 40th anniversary celebrations of the first moon landing and the world was shocked to be confronted by three greying, elderly, frail men.

The Apollo 11 commander was a prolific critic of President Obama’s cuts to the NASA budget and cancellation of Project Constellation, which was intended to return humans to the moon by 2020.

Armstrong joins Jim Irwin, Alan Shepard and Pete Conrad on the list of moon walkers who have sadly passed away, with only eight remaining to share their experiences with the rest of us. His aversion to public speaking and reclusive nature, that so annoyed and frustrated journalists and space enthusiasts, somehow seemed to preserve the magic and mystery of the Apollo missions.

Armstrong underwent heart surgery on the 7th August and reports suggest he suffered complications which caused him to pass away in a hospital in Columbus, Ohio yesterday.

He expressed no desire to be remembered for what he achieved in space, but even in death Neil Armstrong will forever embody the hopes of a generation, at a time when anything was possible, and captivate those that may one day follow the trail he blazed to the stars.


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