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Neil Armstrong, 1930 – 2012

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Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, has died at the age of 82. His family broke the news that the astronaut, who had undergone heart bypass surgery earlier this month, passed away today, Saturday, August 25, 2012. According to his family, Armstrong died from post-surgery complications.

Neil Armstrong, photographed by Buzz Aldrin.

The Armstrong family has released an official statement:

We are heartbroken to share the news that Neil Armstrong has passed away following complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures.

Neil was our loving husband, father, grandfather, brother and friend.

Neil Armstrong was also a reluctant American hero who always believed he was just doing his job. He served his Nation proudly, as a navy fighter pilot, test pilot, and astronaut. He also found success back home in his native Ohio in business and academia, and became a community leader in Cincinnati.

He remained an advocate of aviation and exploration throughout his life and never lost his boyhood wonder of these pursuits.

As much as Neil cherished his privacy, he always appreciated the expressions of good will from people around the world and from all walks of life.

While we mourn the loss of a very good man, we also celebrate his remarkable life and hope that it serves as an example to young people around the world to work hard to make their dreams come true, to be willing to explore and push the limits, and to selflessly serve a cause greater than themselves.

For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.

Armstrong was the commander of the Apollo 11 mission that touched down on the moon 43 years ago on July 20, 1969. As an estimated 500 million viewers watched here on Earth, Armstrong stepped down onto lunar soil and said the words that have become some of the most unforgettable in all of human history: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

As reported by USA Today, Armstrong flew for the Navy during the Korean War, and eventually went on to become one of NASA’s very first astronauts, also serving as command pilot for the Gemini 8 mission. After the Apollo 11 mission, Armstrong went on to teach at the University of Cincinnati.

With the Curiosity rover currently exploring Mars, and SpaceX and other private firms pushing forward the boundaries of commercial spaceflight, it seems like space exploration is in the public conversation in a way it hasn’t been in a long time. While it’s a shame that Armstrong won’t be here to see it, there’s no question that he helped pave the way for whatever shape space exploration takes in the coming decades. Here’s hoping that we, as a species, can finally begin following the trail that began with “one small step.”

Image from NASA Apollo Archive

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