Neil Alden Armstrong, spacecraft commander of NASA's Apollo 11 mission and the first person to walk on the Moon, has died at 82.
The former U.S. astronaut passed away while recovering from heart-bypass surgery, a procedure he underwent just weeks ago, according to a statement released by his family.
On March 16, 1966, Armstrong became one the first American civilians to orbit the Earth aboard NASA's Gemini VIII capsule, on his very first mission. Just three years later, on July 20, 1969, over half a billion people watched in awe as Armstrong stepped out of the Apollo spacecraft, down its ladder, and onto the surface of the Moon, where he uttered the most famous words in the history of space exploration: "That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind."
[Armstrong was] a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the Academy of the Kingdom of Morocco. He served as a member of the National Commission on Space (1985-1986), as Vice-Chairman of the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident (1986), and as Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee for the Peace Corps (1971-1973).
Armstrong has been decorated by 17 countries. He is the recipient of many special honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom; the Congressional Space Medal of Honor; the Explorers Club Medal; the Robert H. Goddard Memorial Trophy; the NASA Distinguished Service Medal; the Harmon International Aviation Trophy; the Royal Geographic Society's Gold Medal; the Federation Aeronautique Internationale's Gold Space Medal; the American Astronautical Society Flight Achievement Award; the Robert J. Collier Trophy; the AIAA Astronautics Award; the Octave Chanute Award; and the John J. Montgomery Award.
The Apollo 11 mission wound up being Armstrong's last space flight — he was named NASA's Deputy Associate Administrator for Aeronautics, and later went on to become a professor of engineering at the University of Cincinnati — but his achievements would inspire a generation, and ignite in people the world over an unprecedented sense of awe, wonder, and achievement that we've been striving to reclaim ever sense.
"The unknowns were rampant," Armstrong would later say of the Apollo 11 mission, and the uncertainties surrounding its success. "There were just a thousand things to worry about." Looking back, it's incredible to think of just how much was riding on the mettle of Armstrong, and the courage of fellow astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, and how much humanity has benefitted from their accomplishments.
Armstrong's first steps on the Moon are so much more than a cultural touchstone. They are an undying testament to humanity's drive to explore, and an enduring reminder of what it means to dare mighty things.