Neil Alden Armstrong, the first human to set foot on another celestial body, passed away Saturday from post-surgical complications. Lieutenant Armstrong flew 78 combat missions over Korea in 1951, resigned his commission and attended Purdue University, graduating in 1955 with a 4.9 GPA and a degree in aeronautical engineering.
Upon graduating from Purdue, Mr Armstrong decided he wanted to be an experimental engineering test pilot, and joined the (at that time) NACA High Speed Test Flight Center at Dryden Station, Edwards Air Force Base [CA]. From there, he was assigned to the Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory in Cleveland [OH], where he began working at Lewis Field in March 1955. By July, he was back at Edwards, where he was tasked to fly chase planes for test flights, and flew highly-modified B-29 “mother ships” that dropped experimental rocket planes. He graduated to flying X-1B super sonic test vehicles, and eventually piloted X-15 hypersonic test beds, in which he became one of the first people to technically reach space (attaining an altitude of 207,500 feet in 1962) in X-15 No 3. He reached a top speed of Mach 5.74 (4,000mph) in X-15 No 1.
In March of 1962, Mr Armstrong was selected as one of six pilots for the Boeing X-20 Dyna Soar, a military space plane designed to be launched atop a ballistic missile and glide back to Earth, landing like an airplane. It was an early iteration of what would become the Space Shuttle. The program was canceled before one was built, but the assignment brought Mr Armstrong to the attention of (by then) NASA’s astronaut program, which asked him to join the “second nine,” crew of astronauts.
Mr Armstrong was mission commander aboard Gemini 8, which rendezvous and docked with an Agena third stage, the first docking of two spacecraft. In December 1968, Mr Armstrong was informed that he was slated to be mission commander for Apollo 11, the first lunar landing mission. During the July 16 1969 launch of Apollo 11, Mr Armstrong’s heart rate reached a maximum of 110 beats per minute – very characteristic of his calmness under pressure.
Neil Armstrong uttered two of the most memorable statements to come out of NASA: “Houston, Tranquility Base here … the Eagle has landed,” and, of course, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
After Apollo 11, his last space flight, Mr Armstrong served for a year as Deputy Associate Administrator for aeronautics for the Office of Advanced Research and Technology, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), taught aerospace engineering at Cincinnati University for eight years, served on the accident investigation boards for Apollo 13  and Challenger . He served on the boards of Marathon Oil, Learjet, Cinergy (Cincinnati Gas & Electric), Taft Broadcasting, United Airlines, Eaton Corporation, AIL Systems and Thiokol, retired as chairman of EDO Corporation in 2002.
On August 7, Mr Armstrong underwent surgery to repair blocked coronary arteries, and died of complications on August 25. He was 82 years of age.
The Apollo 11 crew members were each awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Langley Gold Medal and the Congressional Space Medal of Honor. Mr Armstrong was awarded Robert H Goddard Memorial Trophy, the Sylvanus Thayer Award, the Collier Trophy, and the Congressional Gold Medal. He was inducted into the Aerospace Walk of Honor and the United States Astronaut Hall of Fame. A lunar crater [31 miles from Tranquility Base] was named in his honor, as was asteroid 6469.
A high-velocity test pilot, always the pioneer and explorer, Neil Armstrong became an American icon. The unassuming, “aw shucks” kind of person who reached the pinnacle of his field, and always looked at it as “just doing my job,” rather than the paradigm-changing accomplishments that they were.