On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. Armstrong is pictured here, shortly after collecting a sample of lunar dust and rocks. At his feet is the handle for the sample collection tool.
Credit: NASA/Andy Chaikin/collectSPACE.com
The death of Neil Armstrong, the first person to set foot on the surface of another world, is reverberating in the highest circles, including the White House.
Armstrong, who took humanity's first steps on the moon in July 1969, died today (Aug. 25) at the age of 82. President Barack Obama said he and his wife Michelle were deeply saddened to hear of the astronaut's passing.
"Neil was among the greatest of American heroes — not just of his time, but of all time," Obama said in a statement.
Armstrong commanded NASA's Apollo 11 mission, which blasted off on July 16, 1969. Armstrong dropped onto the lunar surface four days later, and he and his two crewmates returned safely to Earth July 24, achieving a goal laid out by President John F. Kennedy eight years earlier.
"When he and his fellow crew members lifted off aboard Apollo 11 in 1969, they carried with them the aspirations of an entire nation," Obama said. "They set out to show the world that the American spirit can see beyond what seems unimaginable — that with enough drive and ingenuity, anything is possible. And when Neil stepped foot on the surface of the moon for the first time, he delivered a moment of human achievement that will never be forgotten."
Armstrong and Apollo 11 lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin spent more than 21 hours on the moon while fellow crewmate Michael Collins orbited above in their command module Columbia. The mission was Armstrong's second — and final — spaceflight; he had first blasted off aboard NASA's Gemini 8 mission in 1966.
Shortly after his boot first clomped into the gray lunar dirt, Armstrong uttered one of the 20th century's most famous lines: "That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind."
The astronaut will continue to inspire explorers of all kinds far into the future, Obama said.
"Today, Neil's spirit of discovery lives on in all the men and women who have devoted their lives to exploring the unknown — including those who are ensuring that we reach higher and go further in space," he said. "That legacy will endure — sparked by a man who taught us the enormous power of one small step."