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Chip Somodevilla/Getty ImagesNeil Armstrong testifies before a House panel about human space flight in 2011. Armstrong died on Saturday at 82.
It was the kind of history that ignites the imagination of humanity.
July 20, 1969, hundreds of millions of people around the world watched
or listened as the lunar module Eagle carried astronauts Neil Armstrong
and Buzz Aldrin to the surface of the moon. Armstrong got on the radio
to let them know "the Eagle has landed."
Armstrong stepped into history July 20, 1969, leaving the first human footprint on the surface of the moon.
Almost seven hours later, Armstrong stepped off
the ladder in his bulky white space suitand said those famous words:
"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind"
Alan Bean became the fourth person to walk on the moon in November of
1969. He says Armstrong hadn't thought a lot about his historic words
because he wasn't sure the landing would be successful.
thought he had about a 90 percent chance of getting back alive — that
was a guess," Bean says. "But he thought he only had about a 50 percent
chance of making a landing and that's why he says, and I believe him,
that he didn't spend a lot of time thinking about what his first words
Bean says a number of astronauts
could have done the mission as well as Armstrong, but he's not sure how
many could have dealt with the aftermath with such humility.
Astronaut Rusty Schweickart, who piloted the lunar module in March of 1969, says Armstrong had a great sense of humor.
"Not a lot of people were aware of [it], but he was a very modest and gracious person," Schweickart says.
Alden Armstrong was born Aug. 5, 1930, and had been fascinated by
flying since his first airplane ride as a 6-year-old boy in Ohio. He
earned his pilot's license before his driver's license, and by the age
of 16 was not only flying airplanes but also experimenting with a wind
tunnel in his basement.
Armstrong earned a
Navy scholarship to Purdue University, but was called to active duty and
flew 78 combat missions in Korea. He became a test pilot for the
forerunner of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and was
accepted into the second group of astronauts.
Armstrong made his first spaceflight in 1966, and just three years later, took humanity's first steps on the moon.
on the moon was a dream that millions of kids have had for hundreds of
years," Schweickart says, "and Neil was lucky enough to have been in the
right place at the right time."
Armstrong — a quiet man who valued his privacy — left NASA in 1971 and
moved his family back to Ohio, where for a time he was a professor of
aerospace engineering at the University of Cincinnati.
Launius, the senior curator in space history at the Smithsonian
National Air and Space Museum, says Armstrong wanted to be remembered as
a good engineer and a good research pilot.
could have done anything, and gone anywhere, made tons of money [and]
done very high-profile sorts of activities," Launius says. "What he
chose to do was go to work as a university professor and teach
engineering. Can you imagine taking your Engineering 101 class from Neil
In a 2009 appearance at the
National Press Club, Armstrong displayed his sense of humor as he was
asked whether he had dreams about being on the moon.
can honestly say, and it's a great surprise to me, that I have never
had a dream about being on the moon," he said to a crowd of laughter.
"It's a great disappointment to me even more than to you."
crater on the moon is named after the former astronaut, a hero to many
around the world. But perhaps Schweickart says it best: "He was a symbol
of what humanity can do when it sets its mind to it."