First moonwalker Neil Armstrong’s death at the age of 82 marks the passing of a “reluctant American hero,” as well as the dimming of the Space Age’s brightest moment.
His death followed complications from heart-bypass surgery he underwent this month, Armstrong’s family said today in a statement released by NASA. The first public report of Armstrong’s death came via NBC News’ Cape Canaveral correspondent, Jay Barbree, a longtime friend.
Armstrong has been immortalized in human history as the first human to set foot on a celestial body beyond Earth. “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind,” he radioed back to Earth from the moon on July 20, 1969.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said that “as long as there are history books, Neil Armstrong will be included in them.”
Armstrong’s fellow moonwalker on the Apollo 11 mission, Buzz Aldrin, was among the legions mourning his passage. “We are missing a great spokesman and leader in the space program,” Aldrin said in a BBC interview. He said he’d remember Armstrong “as being a very capable commander and leader of an achievement that will be recognized until man sets foot on the planet Mars.”
Michael Collins, the crewmate who circled the moon in the Apollo 11 command module while Armstrong and Aldrin took that first trip to the lunar surface, also paid tribute to his commander in a NASA statement: “He was the best, and I will miss him terribly.”
President Barack Obama said that Armstrong and his crew “carried with them the aspirations of an entire nation,” and that the first steps on the moon “delivered a moment of human achievement that will never be forgotten.”