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Moon-landing hero Neil Armstrong dead at 82

Published August 25, 2012 9:05 pm

History-making astronaut • 'One giant leap for mankind'
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

There are moments when time seems to pause, and the world knows history has been made.

Many of those moments are horror-filled — the assassination of John F. Kennedy or the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

But once in a while, an act captures the imagination and sense of wonder of the entire planet.

Neil Armstrong, the humble man who enthralled one-fifth of the world's population as he took the first steps on the moon, and credited others for the feat, died Saturday at the age of 82.

He died following complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures, his family said in a statement. Armstrong had undergone a bypass operation this month, according to NASA. His family didn't say where he died; he had lived in suburban Cincinnati.

The loss of one of the great heroes of space exploration left Seth Jarvis, director of the Clark Planetarium, in a reflective mood.

He remembers clearly tuning his black-and-white TV into the news on July 20, 1969, and watching Armstrong take his first steps and utter his famous words.

"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," Armstrong said.

(Armstrong insisted later that he had said "a" before man, but said he too couldn't hear it in the version that went to the world.)

"In that moment, the universe changed. I felt the lurch. I needed to sit down," Jarvis said. Instead, the then 14-year-old ran outside of his parents' Salt Lake City home and looked at the sky, which hung high in the sky. "It was a moment where time stopped and I could barely breathe. I was looking simultaneously at a heavenly object and at a place where people were."

In those first few moments on the moon, during the climax of a heated space race with the then-Soviet Union, Armstrong stopped in what he called "a tender moment" and left a patch to commemorate NASA astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts who had died in action.

"It was special and memorable but it was only instantaneous because there was work to do," Armstrong told an Australian television interviewer this year.

Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin spent nearly three hours walking on the lunar surface, collecting samples, conducting experiments and taking photographs.

"The sights were simply magnificent, beyond any visual experience that I had ever been exposed to," Armstrong once said.

It was an event burnished into the mind of Patrick Wiggins, NASA/JPL solar system ambassador to Utah, who was 20 years old in Elko, Nev., and about to deploy to Vietnam with the Air Force.

"It was an inspiration. I'm sure he would probably not like being referred to as an inspiration, as he avoided the public so much," Wiggins said. "But whether he likes it or not, he was an inspiration to a whole generation, and he will be missed."

After his return from the moon, Armstrong let Aldrin make the public appearances and talk about his experience on the moon — there's a reason why Buzz Lightyear carries the moniker of the second man on the moon and not the first — while Armstrong left after a year of serving as deputy associate administrator for aeronautics at NASA to teach aerospace engineering at the University of Cincinnati.

He remained there until 1979 and during that time bought a 310-acre farm near Lebanon, Ohio, where he raised cattle and corn. He stayed out of public view, accepting few requests for interviews or speeches.

"He didn't give interviews, but he wasn't a strange person or hard to talk to," said Ron Huston, a colleague at the University of Cincinnati. "He just didn't like being a novelty."

Those who knew him said he enjoyed golfing with friends, was active in the local YMCA and frequently ate lunch at the same restaurant in Lebanon.

From 1982 to 1992, Armstrong was chairman of Charlottesville, Va.-based Computing Technologies for Aviation Inc., a company that supplies computer information management systems for business aircraft.

He then became chairman of AIL Systems Inc., an electronic systems company in Deer Park, N.Y.

Armstrong married Carol Knight in 1999, and the couple lived in Indian Hill, a Cincinnati suburb. He had two adult sons from a previous marriage.

In 2000, when he agreed to announce the top 20 engineering achievements of the 20th century as voted by the National Academy of Engineering, Armstrong said there was one disappointment relating to his moonwalk.

"I can honestly say — and it's a big surprise to me — that I have never had a dream about being on the moon," he said.

Armstrong was born Aug. 5, 1930, on a farm near Wapakoneta, in western Ohio. He took his first airplane ride at age 6 and developed a fascination with aviation that prompted him to build model airplanes and conduct experiments in a homemade wind tunnel. He earned his pilot license at age 16, before he had earned his driver license. He enrolled in Purdue University to study aeronautical engineering but was called to duty with the U.S. Navy in 1949 and flew 78 combat missions in Korea.

After the war, Armstrong finished his degree from Purdue and later earned a master's degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Southern California. He became a test pilot with what evolved into the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, flying more than 200 kinds of aircraft from gliders to jets.

Armstrong was accepted into NASA's second astronaut class in 1962 — the first, including Glenn, was chosen in 1959 — and commanded the Gemini 8 mission in 1966. After the first space docking, he brought the capsule back in an emergency landing in the Pacific Ocean when a wildly firing thruster kicked it out of orbit.

Armstrong was backup commander for the historic Apollo 8 mission at Christmastime in 1968. In that flight, Commander Frank Borman, and Jim Lovell and Bill Anders circled the moon 10 times, paving the way for the lunar landing seven months later.

Armstrong's is the second death in a month of one of NASA's most visible, history-making astronauts. Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, died of pancreatic cancer on July 23 at age 61.

For Jarvis, the planetarium director, the deaths of such history-making astronauts leaves him with a sense of regret. He remembers his grandmother telling him about being alive during Charles Lindbergh's flight across the Atlantic, and Jarvis hoped that Armstrong would still be alive to radio a congratulations to the first astronauts to step on Mars.

"I think we'll have lost all the Apollo astronauts before humans put another footprint on the moon, let alone on Mars," he said.

At the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles on Saturday, visitors held a minute of silence for Armstrong. For anyone else who wanted to remember him, his family's statement made a simple 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."

Lisa Cornwell and Seth Borenstein of the Associated Press contributed to this report.








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