On top of moon, yet always a reluctant hero
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JOHN NOBLE WILFORD
A quiet, private man, at heart an engineer and crack test pilot, Neil 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.
Armstrong, who made the "giant leap for mankind" as the first human to set foot on the moon, died Saturday. He was 82.
On that day in 1969, 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," 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."
A few hours later, there was 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 are subject of a minor historical debate.)
Soon Aldrin joined Armstrong, bounding like kangaroos in the low lunar gravity while the command ship pilot, Michael Collins, remained about 60 miles overhead, waiting their return.
Announcing his death on Saturday, Armstrong's family called him "a reluctant hero who always believed he was just doing his job." Some space officials have cited this characteristic, as well as his engineering skills and experience piloting X-15 rocket planes, as reasons that he stood out in the astronaut corps. After his success, he sought to lead a private life, first as an associate administrator in the space programme, then as a university professor and director of corporations.
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