Ohio native Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, dies

CINCINNATI - Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, died on Saturday.

The Ohio native was 82 years old.  A statement from his family said the pioneering astronaut died in Cincinnati following complications from heart surgery.

Half a billion people watched on television as Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the moon on July 20, 1969.  With the words, "that's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," Armstrong made history as the first man on the moon.

Armstrong was born on Aug. 5, 1930, near Wapakoneta, Ohio.  His fascination with flight started early--he could fly before he could drive.  At 16, he had earned his student pilot's license.

Armstrong went on to study aeronautical engineering at Purdue University on a U.S. Navy scholarship in 1947.  Two years later, he was called to serve in the Korean War.

After flying 78 combat missions, he returned to Purdue to finish his studies in 1952.

Armstrong joined the organization that would become NASA in 1955.

He settled down to marry Janet Shearon in 1956 and they had three children: Eric, Karen and Mark. Karen died of a brain tumor when she was a toddler.

In 1962, Armstrong was one of the select few chosen to begin astronaut training. He served as a command pilot during his first mission for the "Gemini 8."

He was selected for the "Apollo 11" mission in 1968.  He would join Michael Collins and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin in the first manned lunar landing.

At 10:56 p.m. on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong made history.  He became the first person to step on the moon's surface and land a craft on the moon.  For this, he earned the Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Armstrong served as NASA's deputy associate administrator for aeronautics until 1971.

After leaving NASA, he took his passion into the classroom. He was a professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Cincinnati for nearly a decade.  

Armstrong returned to NASA in 1986 after the "Challenger" explosion. He served as vice chairman of the presidential commission on the space shuttle accident.

Neil Armstrong will forever be one of the most famous people in the world, but he was also famously private.  He shied away from the spotlight and in all his years only granted one interview to the television program "60 Minutes" in 2006.

"When you do get off, you have that wonderful feeling: 'we did it'- we're off and we're flying again," Armstrong said in the interview. 

Armstrong once called himself a "nerdy engineer, born under the second law of thermodynamics."  He denied dozens of requests to write his biography, but finally succumbed when he was 75 years old.  The biography, titled "First Man: The Life of Neil Armstrong," came out in 2006.  

A share of the profits went to Purdue for a space program archive.

Neil Armstrong was a space pioneer that leaves behind a lasting legacy.  As one New York Times writer once put it -- he's a space hero short on words, but sky-high on Midwestern integrity.

He lived with his wife Carol in Indian Hill. His family called Armstrong a "reluctant hero."  In a statement, they said, "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."

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