Neil Armstrong, first man to walk on the moon, dies at 82

A tight crop of a photo Neil Armstrong took of Buzz Aldrin. You can see Armstrong and the lunar lander in the foreground. The lovely Earth is the small dot near the top. Click for full image. Credit: NASA

If you haven’t heard the news yet, Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, died Saturday from complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures. He was 82. I’ll never forget the night he and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin walked out onto the surface of the moon on July 20, 1969. Who could forget those first words from the moon after their harrowing landing:

“Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

Neil on the moon July 20, 1969

I was 15 at the time and had a camera and tripod ready to go in front of the black-and-white TV set in the basement. Watching the quiet drama unfold, I squeezed the shutter button to record one of mankind’s greatest achievements. Armstrong’s left foot touched the lunar surface at exactly 9:56:15 p.m. (CDT). I got it! Tonight I dug around my current basement for those photos, but in the blizzard of life since 1969, I’ve lost or misplaced them.  Luckily, memory serves well.

Part of a panoramic shot showing Neil Armstrong working with equipment stored on the lander. Credit: NASA

There aren’t many pictures of Armstrong on the moon because he had the camera during most of the time he and Aldrin were outside the module. That’s why you see Aldrin in most of the first moon landing images. There’s only one high-quality still image of Armstrong (above); the rest is low-res TV and film.

The grainy TV image of Armstrong’s first step on the moon. Click to see the original “One Small Step” video. Credit: NASA

No matter. He did the deed and returned home to tell the tale. He and Buzz inspired lots of us kids and teens to think about space and space travel. And yes, I wanted to be an astronaut. We pointed our little scopes at the moon at every opportunity. I remember memorizing the vague area in the Sea of Tranquillity where Aldrin and Armstrong walked so I’d be ready to point it out to parents or friends when they inevitably asked. People still ask to this day.

Neil Armstrong’s boot print on the moon. Credit: NASA

While Armstrong brought the moon closer to us, it’s what he said about the Earth that sticks in my mind:

“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.”

Thanks Neil for making the first tracks in the long and winding path to the asteroids, planets and beyond.

8 thoughts on “Neil Armstrong, first man to walk on the moon, dies at 82

  1. Hi Bob,
    thanks for the article. I was a boy of ten at the time, and I fondly remember that I was allowed to stay up all night and watch the pictures from the Moon on my grandma’s black and white TV – my parents didn’t have one yet at the time. The moonlandings were most impressive for me, and it could be they shaped my further life… would I otherwise have become interested in electronics, space flight, Astronomy and studied Physics ? I guess no.
    Farewell, Neil. And thanks again, Bob, for the nice memories.
    Stephan

      • RIP to a great man. Wouldn’t it be fitting if the next lunar rover/lander/orbiter – whatever, regardless of which country sent it there, would take some of his ashes and scatter them on the Sea of Tranquility?

        Sadly, I’ve already seen more than a few spiteful comments on blogs and forums calling him a liar and a fraud for not revealing what he ‘knew’ about the Apollo ‘hoax’. What sad lives some people lead.

        • Carol,
          Scattering his ashes there on a future lunar mission is a wonderful idea. Gene Shoemaker’s up there already via Lunar Prospector. I saw hoax references when I went online to read about Neil. Will that never end? Not even the evidence of all the landing sites is enough for some, but as I’ve said before, once you’ve bought into the hoax myth, rationality goes out the door.

  2. I have no doubt the good people who drive the Curiosity Rover will name something on Mars after Neil during one of their drives. (Not that the IAU will officially recognize it, though. I must confess I don’t know how naming rights work for explorers or discoverers.) I know Neil has a crater on the Moon named after him, but I don’t know about Mars. It’s sad to think that we have lost another Apollo astronaut. It’s also sad to think that all the Moonwalkers may die off before we set foot on another celestial body. I was only three when Neil walked on the Moon, and I have been waiting my whole life to experience the collective thrill that so many talk about on that 1969 night.

    • Larry,
      That would indeed by sad if all the Apollo guys passed before we walked again on the moon, an asteroid or Mars, but I’m afraid that’s likely to happen. All three of the Apollo 11 astronauts have craters together on the moon. One night a while back I found them in my scope. Thanks for your thoughts.

  3. Some 350 years before Neil Armstrong made the giant leap, Johannes Kepler wrote a short story (with lots of footnotes) about a voyage to the moon. So as not to offend the thought police of the times, the moon voyage was disguised as a dream, and the novel’s title was “Somnium”. Kepler is better known for his science, including his fundamental discovery of mathematical rules that govern the universe (specifically, planetary motion), which led to Newton’s universal laws of gravity, which in turn allowed us to plot Armstrong’s path to the moon. Although presented as a dream, Kepler’s footnotes in the Somnium described much of the science behind the voyage, including details such as the cross-over from Earth’s gravity to the moon’s. Remember Apollo 11 crossing that point and beginning its fall towards the moon? That’s when Apollo had truly left its home planet.
    Carl Sagan nicely wove together the stories of Kepler and Apollo in the third episode of Cosmos, titled “The Harmony of the Worlds”. The entire episode is posted at:
    http://www.discovery-enterprise.com/2010/07/carl-sagans-cosmos-harmony-of-worlds.html
    If you’re short on time, the part about the Somnium starts at 52:50.
    At 54:37, Kepler looks down at his feet and sees Armstrong’s footprint on the moon.
    Kepler had the dream, and Neil made it come true.

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