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First To Walk On The Moon, U.S. Astronaut Neil Armstrong Dies At 82

  • RFE/RL

Neil Armstrong (left) with his fellow crew members from the Apollo 11 mission, Michael Collins (center) and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin.

Neil Armstrong (left) with his fellow crew members from the Apollo 11 mission, Michael Collins (center) and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin.

Former U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first human to walk on the moon, has died at the age of 82.

His family said Armstrong died from complications after heart-bypass surgery earlier this month to relieve blocked coronary arteries.

As commander of the Apollo 11 mission, Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969.

"That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind," Armstrong famously said as he stepped onto the lunar surface.

Neil Armstrong speaks at Ohio State University on February 12.

Neil Armstrong speaks at Ohio State University on February 12.

Armstrong and fellow U.S. astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin spent nearly three hours walking on the moon.

Some 600 million people around the world -- about a fifth of the world's population at the time -- watched or listened to the moon landing.

U.S. President Barack Obama led tributes to Armstrong, saying he was "a hero not just of his time, but of all time."

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso hailed Armstrong as "a source of inspiration for all mankind," while French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said that Armstrong's "small step" had "realized the dream of generations of inventors, scientists, artists, poets or simply amateurs, of the beauties of space."

Armstrong was decorated by 17 countries and received many honors but was never comfortable with his worldwide fame.

Armstrong, Aldrin, and the third member of the crew, Michael Collins, were given ticker-tape parades in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. The trio also toured 22 nations.

In all, 12 Americans walked on the moon from 1969 to 1972.

The moonwalk was viewed as the United States' victory in the Cold War space race that began October 4, 1957, when the Soviet Union shocked the world with the launching of the Sputnik 1 satellite.

Armstrong later said the space race was "the ultimate peaceful competition: U.S.A. versus U.S.S.R."

"It was intense and it did allow to both sides to take the high road for the objectives of science and learning and exploration. Eventually, it provided a mechanism for engendering cooperation between former adversaries. In that sense, among others, it was an exceptional national investment for both sides," he explained.

The Apollo 11 moon mission turned out to be Armstrong's last space flight.

In the years afterward, Armstrong avoided the limelight, spending much of his time teaching in the classroom or on his farm in Ohio.

In 2010, however, Armstrong went public with his reservations over the space policies of Obama, with its shift away from a return to the moon to more emphasis on private companies developing spaceships.

His family's statement made a simple request for anyone who wants to remember him.

"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."


With reporting by AP, AFP and Reuters

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