'The Next Time You Look at the Sky and See the Moon Smiling Down at You, Just Think of Neil Armstrong'; Family's Poignant Tribute to Astronaut Whose 'One Small Step' Changed History

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), August 26, 2012 | Go to article overview

'The Next Time You Look at the Sky and See the Moon Smiling Down at You, Just Think of Neil Armstrong'; Family's Poignant Tribute to Astronaut Whose 'One Small Step' Changed History


Byline: Mail Reporter

HE WAS a quiet, self-described nerdy engineer who went on to become a global hero when he made 'one giant leap for mankind' with a small step on to the moon.

Neil Armstrong was a steelynerved pilot but a modest man who entranced and awed people on Earth from the great unexplored environs of space.

When he died yesterday at the age of 82, Armstrong left something of an unrivalled legend. His family said in a statement that he died following complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures.

Though their news did not include where or when he died, they paid him a moving tribute, saying in a statement: 'Next time you see the Moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong.'

Armstrong commanded the Apollo 11 spacecraft that landed on the moon July 20, 1969, capping the most daring of the 20th century's scientific expeditions. His first words after setting foot on the surface are etched in history books and in the memories of those who heard them in a live broadcast.

'That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,' Armstrong said.

In those first few moments on the moon, during the climax of a heated space race with the Soviet Union, Armstrong stopped in what he called 'a tender moment' and left a patch to commemorate Nasa astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts who had died in action.

'It was special and memorable, but it was only instantaneous because there was work to do,' Armstrong told an Australian television interviewer this year.

Armstrong and Edwin 'Buzz' Aldrin spent nearly three hours walking on the lunar surface, collecting samples, conducting experiments and taking photographs.

'We celebrate his remarkable life' 'The sights were simply magnificent, beyond any visual experience that I had ever been exposed to,' Armstrong once said.

The moonwalk marked America's victory in the Cold War space race that began on October 4, 1957, with the launch of the Soviet Union's Sputnik 1, a satellite that sent shockwaves around the world.

Although he had been a Navy fighter pilot, a test pilot for Nasa's forerunner and an astronaut, Armstrong never allowed himself to be caught up in the celebrity and glamour of the space programme.

'I am, and ever will be, a white socks, pocket protector, nerdy engineer,' he said in February 2000 in one of his rare public appearances.

'And I take a substantial amount of pride in the accomplishments of my profession.'

A man who kept away from cameras, Armstrong went public in 2010 with his concerns about President Barack Obama's space policy that shifted attention away from a return to the moon and emphasised private companies developing spaceships.

He testified before Congress, and in an email to The Associated Press he said he had 'substantial reservations'.

Armstrong's modesty and selfeffacing manner never faded.

When he appeared in Dayton, Ohio, in 2003 to help celebrate the 100th anniversary of powered flight, he bounded onto a stage before 10,000 people. But he spoke for only a few seconds, did not mention the moon and quickly ducked out of the spotlight.

He later joined former astronaut and senator John Glenn to lay wreaths on the graves of airplane inventors Wilbur and Orville Wright. Glenn introduced Armstrong and noted it was 34 years to the day that Armstrong had walked on the moon.

'Thank you, John. Thirty-four years?' Armstrong quipped, as if he hadn't given it a thought.

At another joint appearance, the two embraced and Glenn commented: 'To this day, he's the one person on Earth, I'm truly, truly envious of.'

Armstrong's moonwalk capped a series of accomplishments that included piloting the X-15 rocket plane and making the first space docking during the Gemini 8 mission, which included a successful emergency splashdown. …

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