It was July 20, 1969, a Sunday evening, and I was anxious to begin my first day of work on Monday for my new employer, Roper Corporation. I was staying at the Holiday Inn in Bradley, Illinois watching TV and my wife, who would deliver our first of four children a short eight days later, was watching TV at our rented house in Calumet City, Illinois. We were 25 years old. We both, albeit separately, witnessed history.
I still remember it well, or at least as well as I can at this age.
He Left Big Footprints on Both the Moon, Earth says this:
Neil Armstrong shot to world-wide fame as the first person to step on the surface of the moon, a feat that marked a new era of human exploration. For the rest of his life he largely shunned the limelight.
Photos: Man on the Moon
Mr. Armstrong's family released a statement Saturday confirming that he died from complications "resulting from cardiovascular procedures" performed Aug. 8, three days after his 82nd birthday.
As commander of Apollo 11 in 1969, Mr. Armstrong punctuated his exploit with the memorable phrase, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." The mission transfixed people around the globe, including nearly one million spectators who flocked to the Florida launch site.
He resisted getting caught up in the hoopla, years later calling himself a "nerdy engineer." Bucking intense pressure to use his celebrity status for political purposes or personal gain, the self-effacing Midwesterner left it to others to ponder the significance and broader meaning of his accomplishment.
The statement from Mr. Armstrong's family referred to him as "a reluctant American hero who always believed he was just doing his job."
Mr. Armstrong was born in Wapakoneta, Ohio, on Aug. 5, 1930, and spent part of his teenage years on a farm about 60 miles from where Orville and Wilbur Wright more than 25 years earlier experimented. He took his first airplane ride at 6 years old.
Mr. Armstrong flew 78 missions as a Navy combat pilot in the Korean War and later gained prominence as a civilian government test pilot.
During his historic moon exploration on July 20, 1969, some of Mr. Armstrong's other transmissions reflected his unflappable demeanor. Before returning to a ticker-tape parade and a 28-city world tour, the aviator was understated in describing his situation and surroundings some 240,000 miles above Earth. In one of his first transmissions to controllers on the ground, he calmly told them: "I tell you, we're going to be busy for a minute."
After the voyage, Mr. Armstrong worked for a year as a high-level official at National Aeronautics and Space Administration headquarters. In his authorized biography, published in 2005, Mr. Armstrong fumed at the bureaucracy and the burden of frequent "appearances on demand" by lawmakers on Capitol Hill. He resigned and went on to teach at the University of Cincinnati.
Starting about 1980, he largely retreated from public view to enjoy the tranquillity of a restored 19th-century farmhouse. He raised cattle and corn, served on corporate boards and enjoyed his grandchildren. Always reluctant to talk to reporters, Mr. Armstrong sometimes seemed uncomfortable even when he gave speeches or attended events commemorating advances in aviation and space.
Mr. Armstrong's biography quotes his first wife, Janet, saying that he "didn't like being singled out or to feel that people were still wanting to touch him or get his autograph." The two divorced in 1994, and Mr. Armstrong remarried that year.
In January 1986, when the space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after liftoff killing all seven aboard, then-President Ronald Reagan personally asked Mr. Armstrong to serve as vice chairman of the commission set up to investigate the accident. In some of the group's public sessions, the former NASA loyalist turned out to be tough and persistent in demanding answers from government officials and contractors alike. Besides focusing on management lapses, at one point Mr. Armstrong pointedly called the rocket and its external boosters "a tender design."
Looking Back: The First Moon LandingJournal articles on the U.S. Apollo 11 mission to the moon in 1969.
- U.S. Is Set to Begin Apollo Tests Deemed Crucial in Moon Race (Oct. 8, 1968)
- Flight to the Moon by Three U.S. Astronauts Will Culminate a Decade of Preparation, the Expenditure of $24 Billion (July 10, 1969)
- Apollo 11 Flight, if a Success, Points Way to Further Moon Exploration (July 17, 1969)
- Moon Landing Success Is Sure to Spur Planning For New Space Feats (July 22, 1969)
- What's News: Astronauts Leave Moon (July 22, 1969)
- Scientists Inclined to Believe Moon Samples Currently Being Returned to Earth Are Lava (July 22, 1969)
In the late 1990s, Mr. Armstrong sold his personal plane but kept his pilot's license for the occasional opportunity to fly an unusual or interesting aircraft.
The Armstrong family's statement ends with the following request: "Honor 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."
So long, Mr. Armstrong.
And thanks for everything you did for us.
Your fan, as always. Bob.