Neil Armstrong, who made the “giant leap for mankind” as the first human to set foot on the moon, died on Saturday. He was 82.
His family said in a statement that the cause was “complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures.” He had undergone heart bypass surgery this month in Cincinnati, near where he lived. His recovery had been going well, according to those who spoke with him after the surgery, and his death came as a surprise to many close to him, including his fellow Apollo astronauts. The family did not say where he died.
A quiet, private man, at heart an engineer and crack test pilot, Mr. Armstrong made history on July 20, 1969, as the commander of the Apollo 11 spacecraft on the mission that culminated the Soviet-American space race in the 1960s. President John F. Kennedy had committed the nation “to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth.” It was done with more than five months to spare.
On that day, Mr. Armstrong and his co-pilot, Col. Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., known as Buzz, steered their lunar landing craft, Eagle, to a level, rock-strewn plain near the southwestern shore of the Sea of Tranquillity. It was touch and go the last minute or two, with computer alarms sounding and fuel running low. But they made it.
“Houston, Tranquillity Base here,” Mr. Armstrong radioed to mission control. “The Eagle has landed.”
“Roger, Tranquillity,” mission control replied. “We copy you on the ground. You’ve got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a lot.”
The same could have been said for hundreds of millions of people around the world watching on television.
A few hours later, there was Mr. Armstrong bundled in a white spacesuit and helmet on the ladder of the landing craft. Planting his feet on the lunar surface, he said, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” (His words would become the subject of a minor historical debate, as to whether he said “man” or an indistinct “a man.”)
Soon Colonel Aldrin joined Mr. Armstrong, bounding like kangaroos in the low lunar gravity, one sixth that of Earth’s, while the command ship pilot, Michael Collins, remained in orbit about 60 miles overhead, waiting their return. In all, 12 American astronauts walked on the moon between then and the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.
The Apollo 11 mission capped a tumultuous and consequential decade. The ’60s in America had started with such promise, with the election of a youthful president, mixed with the ever-present anxieties of the cold war. Then it touched greatness in the civil rights movement, only to implode in the years of assassinations and burning city streets and campus riots. But before it ended, human beings had reached that longtime symbol of the unreachable.
The moonwalk lasted 2 hours and 19 minutes, long enough to let the astronauts test their footing in the fine and powdery surface — Mr. Armstrong noted that his boot print was less than an inch deep — and set up a television camera and scientific instruments and collect rock samples.
Neil Alden Armstrong was born on Aug. 5, 1930, in the small town of Wapakoneta, Ohio, to Stephen Armstrong and the former Viola Louise Engel. His father was a state auditor, which meant the family moved every few years to a new Ohio town while Neil was growing up. At the age of 6, Neil and his father took a ride in a Ford Trimotor airplane, known as the Tin Goose. It must have made an impression, for by the time he was 15, he had learned to fly, even before he got his driver’s license.
Neil became an Eagle Scout when the family later moved back to Wapakoneta, where he finished high school. (The town now has a museum named for Mr. Armstrong.) From there, he went to Purdue University as an engineering student on a Navy scholarship. His college years were interrupted by the Korean War, in which Mr. Armstrong was a Navy fighter pilot who flew 78 combat missions, one in which he was forced to eject after the plane lost one of its ailerons, the hinged flight-control panels on the wings.