21 July 1969

Astronaut Neil Armstrong becomes the first person to walk on the Moon.

Neil Armstrong was a NASA astronaut most famous for being the first person to walk on the moon, on July 20, 1969. An accomplished test pilot, Armstrong also flew on the Gemini 8 mission in 1966. He retired from NASA in 1971 and remained active in the aerospace community, although he chose to keep mostly out of the public spotlight. Armstrong died Aug. 25, 2012, at age 82.

Armstrong was famously reticent about his accomplishments, preferring to focus on the team that helped him get to the moon rather than his own first steps. “I guess we all like to be recognized not for one piece of fireworks, but for the ledger of our daily work,” Armstrong said in an interview on CBS’s “60 Minutes” program in 2005, according to Reuters.

In another interview, when asked what it feels like to have his footprints remain on the moon’s surface for thousands of years, Armstrong said, “I kind of hope that somebody goes up there one of these days and cleans them up,” Reuters added.

An official biography of Armstrong was published in 2005, called “First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong.” It was written by James R. Hansen, a former NASA historian and later a history professor at Auburn University.

Early career and NASA work Armstrong was born in Wapakoneta, Ohio, on Aug. 5, 1930. His parents were Stephen Koenig Armstrong and Viola Louise Engel. Armstrong was a naval aviator from 1949 to 1952 and served in the Korean War. Armstrong got a bachelor of science degree in aeronautical engineering from Purdue University in 1955; much later he received a master of science in aerospace engineering from the University of Southern California in 1970. As a NASA test pilot, Armstrong flew the X-15, a rocket-powered, missile-shaped aircraft that tested the limits of high-altitude flight. He flew more than 200 different aircraft, from jets to gliders and even helicopters.

NASA test pilot Neil Armstrong is seen here next to the X-15 ship #1 after a research flight. In 1962, Armstrong was selected with NASA’s second group of astronauts, who flew on the two-seat Gemini missions to test out space technology, and the three-seat Apollo missions that ultimately took 12 people to the surface of the moon. Armstrong’s first flight was the command pilot of the Gemini 8 mission in March 1966, the sixth crewed mission of that series.

Armstrong and pilot David Scott did the first orbital docking of two spacecraft, joining their Gemini 8 spacecraft to an uncrewed Agena target vehicle. However, the mission quickly turned into an emergency situation when a thruster on the Gemini 8 spacecraft was stuck open. With the astronauts whipping around faster than one revolution per second, Armstrong managed to gain control again by using the re-entry system thrusters. The mission — the first serious emergency in space — ultimately ended safely, but splashed down early because the re-entry system was used.

Armstrong narrowly avoided a nasty accident in May 1968 while using the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle, a machine that could fly somewhat like a lunar module and simulate landings on the moon. Fuel for his thrusters ran out and Armstrong was forced to eject just seconds before the vehicle crashed. Armstrong escaped unharmed.