Neil Armstong Dead at 82: How He Came to Be the First Man on the Moon

Neil Armstrong, the first human to set foot on another world, died Saturday at the age of 82.

Armstrong was a test pilot, engineer and professor, but is best known for commanding Apollo 11, the first manned mission to land on the Moon. Declaring it “One small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind,” Armstrong left the Eagle lander and stepped onto the Lunar surface on July 21, 1969, at 02:56 UTC.

The moment was one of the high points of human history, and fulfilled the pledge of the late President John F. Kennedy, who had in 1961 pledged to land a mission on the Moon by the end of the decade.

Early Life

Armstrong was born on August 5, 1930, to Stephen and Viola Armstrong. The family moved often due to Stephen’s job as an auditor for the State of Ohio; Neil Armstrong lived in 20 different towns by the time he was 15 years old. Armstrong began taking flight lessons in Wapokanetta, Ohio, and earned his pilot’s license by the age of 15.

Armstrong was accepted into the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but instead attended Purdue University, where he studied Aerospace Engineering. Armstrong went to school for two years, then entered the U.S. Navy under a tuition repayment plan.

While in the Navy, Armstrong qualified as a Naval Aviator. He flew combat missions during the Korean War. Armstrong’s plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire in 1951, ultimately forcing him to eject after flying the crippled craft back to friendly territory.

Armstrong returned to Purdue after completing his service, where he met his first wife, Janet Shearon. After Armstrong graduated in 1955, the two married, then moved to California, where Armstrong served at Edwards Air Force Base.

The Armstrongs had three children: Eric, Karen, and Mark. In 1961, Karen developed a malignant tumor on her brain stem, ultimately leading to her death in 1962.

Test Pilot and Astronaut

Armstrong served as a test pilot during his time at Edwards Air Force Base, piloting chase planes, and later, experimental planes. Armstrong flew both the Bell X-1B and the North American X-15, reaching 207,000 feet on one mission — two-thirds of the way to space. Armstrong resigned his commission in 1960, but continued to work with the military as a test pilot and engineer.

Armstrong joined NASA in 1963 as part of the “New Nine.” Armstrong and Elliot See were the first two civilians to join the U.S. space program, and was the second civilian, after the Soviet Union’s Valentina Tereshkova, to fly in space, when he flew on Gemini 8. He would fly again during the Gemini program on Gemini 11.

Apollo Mission

Armstrong was a part of the Apollo program since its inception. He served as backup commander for Apollo 8, and was named commander for Apollo 11 in 1968. In March of 1969, it was decided that Armstrong, the mission commander, would be the astronaut who would be the first to walk on the Moon.

The landing of the Eagle lunar module was dangerous. During descent, Armstrong saw the craft moving toward an area that appeared unsafe. Armstrong took manual control of the LM, and moved the craft to a safe position.

Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin spent about two and a half hours on the Moon, before returning to dock with the lunar orbiter, and then returning to Earth.

After Apollo

Armstrong never flew in space again. He served as Deputy Associate Administrator of DARPA for one year, before accepting a teaching position at the University of Cincinnati. Armstrong taught for eight years before resigning in 1979.

Armstrong helped investigate both the failure of the Apollo 13 mission and the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. He worked in business, serving as a member of the board of directors for several companies, and as Chairman of the Board for the EDO Corporation until 2002.

Though Armstrong was approached by both Democrats and Republicans, he declined to enter politics. Armstrong divorced his first wife, Janet, in 1994, and married Carol Knight.

Armstrong died of complications of coronary surgery. He is survived by his wife Carol and his sons, Eric and Mark.

Related Stories

Sally Ride, First American Woman in Space, Dies at 61

Iran Plans To Launch Monkey Into Space

High School Students Send Lego Man Into Space

Image Credit: NASA

Love This? Never Miss Another Story.


J.L. A.
JL A.3 years ago

each of us could be the one others choose to follow

Huber F.
Huber F.3 years ago

Tough hero, who gave more to humanity than he should.

Anna M.
Anna M.3 years ago

What an exciting life! May he rests in peace!!

Robyn O.
Robyn O.3 years ago

Getting to the moon was a wonderful thing. But I still wonder how that camera got out there, a few feet away, before Armstrong took his first step. Was the photo taken by remote control? If so, did he throw it out of the hatch before stepping out on the ladder, or did it have little wheels and it was dropped down?

Veronique L.
veronique L.3 years ago

Thank you so much for posting this....I hope Mr Armstrong will rest in peace.

Rosie Jolliffe
Rosie Lopez3 years ago


Jaime  Alexande Alves
Jaime Alves3 years ago


Virginia Peng
Virginia Peng3 years ago

Mr. Neil Armstrong contributed so much and all will remember him. I think everyone was proud of him as he stepped onto the moon and brought great dreams to people who one day hoped to go to the moon. While it is so sad that he is no longer here, I think people will continue to remember him and the great things he accomplished. I pray that comfort and love will be with his family during this difficult time.

Maureen Leibich
Maureen Leibich3 years ago

Left something out. Neil Armstrong was born in 1930, so at the time of this incident, the very idea of someone walking on the moon was decades in the future. The only place anyone thought of such a thing was in science fiction.

Maureen Leibich
Maureen Leibich3 years ago

Vasu M.--Please cite the source you have for this information. I was already an adult at the time, and I remember nothing except Neil Armstrong being the one to walk on the moon first. Who except the mission commander should have that honor.

Neil Armstrong said something else on that historic walk. He said, "Good luck, Mr. ______." I don't remember the man's name, and Armstrong wouldn't explain the remark for some years. After some years he told this story: Mr. ________ was a neighbor of his when he was a kid. One day he was playing ball, and the ball went into the neighbor's yard. He went to get it and heard Mrs. ________ yelling at her husband: "Sex! Sex! You want sex? You'll get sex when that kid next door walks on the moon!" Armstrong said he held back on telling the story because he didn't want to embarrass the man. The man at that time was dead, so Armstrong finally answered all the questions he had gotten about the comment he made. I read about this in an interview Armstrong gave to, I believe, Parade Magazine some years ago.

I remember well the night he landed on the moon. Our house reverberated with the cheers of the people we were entertaining that day, and the neighborhood exploded with the fireworks and rockets set off in celebration.