On July 20, 1969, American astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped off the lunar landing module Eagle, and became the first human to walk on the surface of the moon. Nearly 240,000 miles from Earth, Armstrong spoke these words to more than a billion people listening at home: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Armstrong died on August 25, 2012, at age 82.

Astronaut, military pilot, educator. Born on August 5, 1930, near Wapakoneta, Ohio. On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong made history by becoming the first man to walk on the moon. He developed a fascination with flight at an early age and earned his student pilot’s license when he was 16. In 1947, Armstrong began his studies in aeronautical engineering at Purdue University on a U.S. Navy scholarship.

His studies, however, were interrupted in 1949 when he was called to serve in the Korean War. A U.S. Navy pilot, Armstrong flew 78 combat missions during this military conflict. He left the service in 1952, and returned to college. A few years later, Armstrong joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which later became the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). For this government agency he worked in a number of different capacities, including serving as a test pilot and an engineer. He tested many high-speed aircraft, including the X-15, which could reach a top speed of 4,000 miles per hour.

In his personal life, Armstrong started to settle down. He married Janet Shearon on January 28, 1956. The couple soon added to their family. Son Eric arrived in 1957, followed by daughter Karen in 1959. Sadly, Karen died of complications related to an inoperable brain tumor in January 1962.

Armstrong faced an even bigger challenge in 1969. Along with Michael Collins and Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin, he was part of NASA’s first manned mission to the moon. The trio were launched into space on July 16, 1969. Serving as the mission’s commander, Armstrong piloted the Lunar Module to the moon’s surface on July 20, 1969, with Buzz Aldrin aboard. Collins remained on the Command Module.

At 10:56 PM, Armstrong exited the Lunar Module. He said, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” as he made his famous first step on the moon. For about two and a half hours, Armstrong and Aldrin collected samples and conducted experiments. They also took photographs, including their own footprints.

Returning on July 24, 1969, the Apollo 11 craft came down in the Pacific Ocean west of Hawaii. The crew and the craft were picked up by the U.S.S. Hornet, and the three astronauts were put into quarantine for three weeks.

Before long, the three Apollo 11 astronauts were given a warm welcome home. Crowds lined the streets of New York City to cheer on the famous heroes who were honored in a ticker-tape parade. Armstrong received numerous awards for his efforts, including the Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Space Medal of Honor.


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