Neil Armstrong, the astronaut who became first to walk on the moon as commander of Apollo 11, has died. He was 82 years old.
He was born in the small town of Wapakoneta, Ohio, on Aug. 5, 1930.
On July 20, 1969, half a billion people -- a sixth of the world's population at the time -- watched a ghostly black-and-white television image as Armstrong backed down the ladder of the lunar landing ship Eagle, planted his left foot on the moon's surface, and said, "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."
Twenty minutes later his crewmate, Buzz Aldrin, joined him, and the world watched as the men spent the next two hours bounding around in the moon's light gravity, taking rock samples, setting up experiments, and taking now-iconic photographs.
"Isn't this fun?" Armstrong said over his radio link to Aldrin. The third member of the Apollo 11 crew, Michael L. Collins, orbited 60 miles overhead in the mission's command ship, Columbia. President Richard Nixon called their eight-day trip to the moon "the greatest week in the history of the world since the Creation."
'I Believe That This Nation Should Commit Itself....'
Armstrong's step fulfilled a challenge laid down by an earlier president, John F. Kennedy, in May 1961. Struggling in his first months in the White House, Kennedy addressed a joint session of Congress:
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"I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth," he said. "No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish."
Armstrong was a 30-year-old test pilot at the time of Kennedy's challenge, flying the X-15 rocket plane for a new government agency called NASA. He had served as a Naval aviator in the Korean War, flying 78 missions, and had an engineering degree from Purdue University. A native of the small town of Wapakoneta, Ohio, he was married to the former Jan Shearon and living near Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of California.
NASA already had seven astronauts, flying its Mercury space capsule. In 1962 it sent out word that it was looking for more, and Armstrong was one of the nine it selected.
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