Obituary: Neil Armstrong

Washington DC
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Neil Armstrong, former US Navy and NASA test pilot who became the first person to walk on the Moon, died on 25 August at the age of 82, reportedly due to complications from coronary surgery.

Condolences have poured in from spaceflight organisations around the world, and US President Barack Obama has ordered that flags at government buildings be flown at half-mast in his memory. Although Armstrong instantly became - and to this day remains - the most famous US astronaut with his first step on the lunar surface, he shied away from the spotlight following his return, accepting an administrative position at NASA headquarters. He retired from that post shortly thereafter to teach aeronautical engineering at the University of Cincinnati, near his hometown in Ohio. He appeared only occasionally in public, and, after the initial burst of publicity following his safe return, rarely spoke about his Moon landing.

"Pilots take no special joy in walking," said Armstrong, when asked about his time on the Moon. "Pilots like flying."

In addition to the Apollo 11 flight that made him famous, Armstrong was a combat fighter pilot and a noted aeronautical engineer and test pilot. After his return from combat flights during the Korean War, Armstrong received degrees in aeronautical engineering and got a job as a test pilot for NASA's predecessor, the National Aeronautics Advisory Committee (NACA). He was first assigned to what is now the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, and later transferred to what is now NASA Dryden at Edwards AFB, California.

While at Dryden, Armstrong was involved with several rocket-powered flight test programmes, considered among the most dangerous and cutting-edge flying at the time. After piloting the Boeing B-29 carrier aircraft, from which he participated in launching over 100 rocket-powered flights, Armstrong began flying the rocket aircraft himself, beginning with the Bell X-1B and moving to the North American X-15A. Armstrong piloted seven X-15 flights, including the first flight of the third tail number and the longest flight conducted to date in the aircraft, gaining a reputation as a highly capable, level-headed, engineering-minded pilot.

"I always felt that the risks that we had in the space side of the programme were probably less than we had back in flying at Edwards," he told historians during a 2001 interview. "The reason is that when we were out exploring the frontiers, we were out at the edges of the flight envelope all the time, testing limits."

He was among the second cohort of astronauts chosen for spaceflight in 1962.

After rigorous training, Armstrong was flown into space as commander of the 1966 Gemini 8 mission, which saw the first in-space docking between two spacecraft. He was later moved to the Apollo programme, where he served as back-up mission commander of Gemini 11 and Apollo 8 before becoming flight commander of Apollo 11 with crewmembers Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin and Michael Collins.

"I'd say throughout my seventeen years at NACA and NASA, a very large percentage of my time was involved in real engineering work throughout that entire time period," said Armstrong.

In 1979, he retired from teaching to his farm in Lebanon, Ohio, taking periodic positions on corporate boards and participating in the investigation into the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger.