Neil Armstrong was born on August 5, 1930, to Stephen Koenig Armstrong and Viola Louise Engel in Auglaize County, near Wapakoneta, Ohio. He was of Scottish, Irish, and German ancestry, and had two younger siblings, June and Dean. Stephen Armstrong worked as an auditor for the Ohio state government; the family moved around the state repeatedly after Armstrong’s birth, living in 20 towns. Neil’s love for flying grew during this time, having gotten off to an early start when his father took his two-year-old son to the Cleveland Air Races. When he was five, he experienced his first airplane flight in Warren, Ohio on July 20, 1936 when he and his father took a ride in a Ford Trimotor, also known as the “Tin Goose”.
His father’s last move was in 1944, back to Neil’s birthplace, Wapakoneta, in Auglaize County. Armstrong attended Blume High School and took flying lessons at the grassy Wapakoneta airfield. He earned a student flight certificate on his 16th birthday, then soloed later in August; all before he had a driver’s license. Armstrong was active in the Boy Scouts and earned the rank of Eagle Scout. As an adult, he was recognized by the Boy Scouts of America with its Distinguished Eagle Scout Award and Silver Buffalo Award.
In 1947, at age 17, Armstrong began studying aeronautical engineering at Purdue University. He was the second person in his family to attend college. He was also accepted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The only engineer he knew (who had attended MIT) dissuaded him from attending, telling Armstrong that it was not necessary to go all the way to Cambridge, Massachusetts, for a good education.
His college tuition was paid for under the Holloway Plan. Successful applicants committed to two years of study, followed by two years of flight training and one year of service in the U.S. Navy as an aviator, then completion of the final two years of their bachelor’s degree. Candidates had to promise to not marry until graduation, signed the “Aviation Guarantee” to serve on Active Duty for at least four years, and would not receive a promotion to Ensign until two years after they received their Midshipman’s warrant.
He became an American astronaut and the first person to walk on the Moon. On July 18, 1969, while flying towards the Moon inside the Columbia, Armstrong greeted the Scouts: “I’d like to say hello to all my fellow Scouts and Scouters at Farragut State Park in Idaho having a National Jamboree there this week; and Apollo 11 would like to send them best wishes”. Houston replied: “Thank you, Apollo 11. I’m sure that, if they didn’t hear that, they’ll get the word through the news. Certainly appreciate that.” Among the very few personal items that Neil Armstrong carried with him to the Moon and back was a World Scout Badge. He was also an aerospace engineer, naval aviator, test pilot, and university professor. Before becoming an astronaut, Armstrong was an officer in the U.S. Navy and served in the Korean War. After the war, he earned his bachelor’s degree at Purdue University and served as a test pilot at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) High-Speed Flight Station, where he logged over 900 flights. He later completed graduate studies at the University of Southern California.
A participant in the U.S. Air Force’s Man in Space Soonest and X-20 Dyna-Soar human spaceflight programs, Armstrong joined the NASA Astronaut Corps in 1962. He made his first space flight as command pilot of Gemini 8 in March 1966, becoming NASA’s first civilian astronaut to fly in space. He performed the first docking of two spacecraft, with pilot David Scott. This mission was aborted after Armstrong used some of his reentry control fuel to prevent a dangerous spin caused by a stuck thruster, in the first in-flight space emergency.
Armstrong’s second and last spaceflight was as commander of Apollo 11, the first manned Moon landing mission in July 1969. Armstrong and Lunar Module pilot Buzz Aldrin descended to the lunar surface and spent two and a half hours outside the spacecraft, while Michael Collins remained in lunar orbit in the Command/Service Module. Along with Collins and Aldrin, Armstrong was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Richard Nixon. President Jimmy Carter presented Armstrong the Congressional Space Medal of Honor in 1978. Armstrong and his former crewmates received the Congressional Gold Medal in 2009.
Armstrong underwent bypass surgery on August 7, 2012, to relieve blocked coronary arteries. Although he was reportedly recovering well, he developed complications in the hospital and died on August 25, in Cincinnati, Ohio. After his death, Armstrong was described, in a statement released by the White House, as “among the greatest of American heroes—not just of his time, but of all time”. The statement further said that Armstrong had carried the aspirations of the United States’ citizens and that he had delivered “a moment of human achievement that will never be forgotten.”
His family released a statement describing Armstrong as a “reluctant American hero served his nation proudly, as a navy fighter pilot, test pilot, and astronaut … While we mourn the loss of a very good man, we also celebrate his remarkable life and hope that it serves as an example to young people around the world to work hard to make their dreams come true, to be willing to explore and push the limits, and to selflessly serve a cause greater than themselves. For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and 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.”
A tribute was held in Armstrong’s honor on September 13 at Washington National Cathedral, whose Space Window depicts the Apollo 11 mission and holds a sliver of Moon rock amid its stained-glass panels. In attendance were Armstrong’s Apollo 11 crewmates, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin; Eugene A. Cernan, the Apollo 17 mission commander and last man to walk on the Moon; and former Senator and astronaut John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth. In a eulogy, Charles Bolden said, “Neil will always be remembered for taking humankind’s first small step on a world beyond our own, but it was the courage, grace, and humility he displayed throughout this life that lifted him above the stars.” Eugene Cernan recalled Armstrong’s low-fuel approach to the Moon: “When the gauge says empty we all know there’s a gallon or two left in the tank!” Diana Krall sang the song “Fly Me to the Moon”. Michael Collins led prayers. Aldrin and Collins left immediately after the event. The Apollo 15 commander, David Scott, spoke to the press; he recalled the Gemini 8 mission with Armstrong when he spoke, possibly for the first time, about an incident in which glue spilled on his harness and prevented it from locking correctly minutes before the hatch had to be sealed or the mission aborted. Armstrong then called on back-up pilot Pete Conrad to solve the problem, which he did, to continue the mission without stopping the countdown clock. “That happened because Neil Armstrong was a team player, he always worked on behalf of the team.”
On September 14, Armstrong’s cremated remains were scattered in the Atlantic Ocean during a burial-at-sea ceremony aboard the USS Philippine Sea. Flags were flown at half-staff on the day of Armstrong’s funeral.