Remembering Neil Armstrong: Humanity's Hero
Aug. 25, 2012 --
Today will forever be known as the day mankind lost a legend. Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon and NASA legend, died after complications stemming from a heart bypass surgery. He underwent the procedure two days after his birthday on Aug. 5. When news of Armstrong's death sunk in, the world joined in mourning, remembering the former astronaut's incredible life of exploration and discovery, culminating in the historic July 20, 1969 lunar landing. Armstrong's Apollo 11 crewmate and friend Buzz Aldrin called the former NASA astronaut a "true American hero and the best pilot I ever knew." As the tributes continue to roll in, it's time to remember Neil Armstrong, who wasn't only the first man on the moon, he was a talented test pilot, brave astronaut, skilled engineer and, above all, humanity's hero.
Before joining NASA to become an astronaut, Neil Armstrong was a test pilot. On April 20, 1962, Armstrong inadvertently set the duration record for the X-15 aircraft, "arguably the coolest aircraft of all time," remarked Discovery News' Amy Shira Teitel in a July article discussing Armstrong's impressive test flight career.
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Neil Armstrong checks his helmet ahead of the 1966 Gemini 8 mission that would see the first docking of two NASA vehicles in orbit. During the mission, Armstrong had to contend with a Gemini thruster glitch that caused a violent spin -- only through the skilled piloting of Armstrong did he and co-pilot Dave Scott return to Earth unhurt.
READ MORE: The Vomit-Inducing Gemini 8 Mission
Armstrong's test flight experience was useful in the run-up to Apollo 11. Seen here on June 20, 1969 (a month before his famous mission to the moon) Armstrong pilots the Lunar Landing Training Vehicle (LLTV). The year before, Armstrong had a near miss after a LLTV malfunctioned and he lost control. He was able to bale-out before the vehicle crashed.
READ MORE: When Landing on the Moon, Practice Makes Perfect
Neil Armstrong in a simulator during a docking study -- he is looking at the Lunar Excursion Module, which makes the lunar landing.
Neil Armstrong, mission commander for Apollo 11, suits up before being launched atop the Saturn V rocket in July 1969.
Armstrong in the cockpit of the command module on Apollo 11, on his way to the moon.
"One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." When Armstrong uttered these words on July 20, 1969, he elevated the whole of humanity to another rung in the evolutionary ladder: we had become a race that can land on other worlds. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden reflected on Armstrong's achievements on Saturday and saluted the former astronaut, saying: "As we enter this next era of space exploration, we do so standing on the shoulders of Neil Armstrong. We mourn the passing of a friend, fellow astronaut and true American hero."
In this famous photograph of Armstrong inside the lunar lander "Eagle," Armstrong shows obvious emotion after his first moonwalk.
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After returning safely to Earth, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins received a hero's welcome as they drove through New York City. The legacy of that mission, and Armstrong's key role in it, inspired the world and still does today, 43 years on. "That legacy will endure - sparked by a man who taught us the enormous power of one small step," said President Obama in a White House statement on Saturday.
Although widely regarded as a private man following the his historic mission to the moon, in recent years he has become an outspoken NASA critic, urging that the space agency needs to invest in manned exploration of the solar system. "I favor returning to the moon. We made six landings there and explored areas as small as a city lot and perhaps as large as a small town. That leaves us some 14 million square miles that we have not explored," said Armstrong ahead of a Congressional address in 2011, pointing out that NASA's ultimate goal should be to land humans on Mars. In a statement released on Saturday, Armstrong's family had a simple request: "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." As you go outside tonight, take a look at the moon and remember that Armstrong's bootprints are still there, beckoning us to return and continue where the Apollo astronauts left off.
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