August 28, 2014

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First man on the moon, Neil Armstrong, has passed away at 82 Print E-mail

The US astronaut Neil Armstrong secured his place in history on 20 July 1969, when, as commander of the Apollo 11 spacecraft, he was the first man to set foot on the moon, and made his famous statement: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Armstrong, who has died aged 82, was accompanied on that epic journey by Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, the pilot of the lunar landing module with the call sign Eagle, and Michael Collins, pilot of the command module with the call sign Columbia.

Armstrong was born in Wapakoneta, Ohio, and from a young age was fascinated with aviation, experimenting with model airplanes and a home-built wind tunnel. At 15 he began flying lessons in an Aeronca Champion, and by 16 acquired his student pilot's licence. In 1947, he enrolled at Purdue University on a Navy scholarship to pursue a degree in aeronautical engineering, but in 1949 the Navy called him to active duty in the Korean War. As a navy pilot, he flew 78 combat missions. He was shot down once and received three medals for his military service. In 1952 he returned to his studies and completed his BSc at Purdue and an MSc in aerospace engineering at the University of Southern California.

In 1955 he became a civilian research pilot at the Lewis research centre of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (Naca), the forerunner of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa). Later that year, he transferred to Naca's high-speed flight station (today, Nasa's Dryden flight research centre) at Edwards Air Force Base in California as an aeronautical research scientist, and then as a pilot. He was a test pilot on many pioneering high-speed aircraft, including the 4,000mph X-15. He flew over 200 different models of aircraft, including jets, rockets, helicopters and gliders.

The choice among competing techniques for achieving a moon landing still needed some intensive research and development. The method ultimately employed, of a lunar-orbit rendezvous, was influenced strongly by the experience with Gemini 8, and there was an element of poetic justice in Armstrong being at the helm again for the first manned lunar landing attempt.

On 16 July 1969, Apollo 11 blasted off for the moon. Four days later, at 4.18pm EDT (Eastern Daylight Time), the Eagle lunar lander was guided to land on a plain near the southwesten edge of the Sea of Tranquility. At 10.56pm Armstrong stepped off the ladder of the Apollo 11 lunar module and became the first human being to set foot on the moon. Twenty minutes later Buzz Aldrin joined him for two hours of ceremonies and moon-rock collecting. They unveiled a plaque and read the text to a worldwide TV audience, "Here men from the planet earth first set foot on the moon July 1969 AD. We came in peace for all mankind."

In 1985-86 he served on the National Commission on Space, a presidential committee to develop goals for a national space programme into the 21st century; and was also vice-chairman of the committee investigating the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986. During the early 1990s he presented an aviation documentary series for television entitled First Flights. Earlier this year he spoke at an event to mark the 50th anniversary of the orbiting of the Earth by the first American to do so, John Glenn.

Armstrong is survived by his second wife, Carol, and two sons from his first marriage, which ended in divorce.