Armstrong left his mark on world history

Armstrong left his mark on world history

A great American has left this planet.

Forty-three years ago, Neil Armstrong was — literally — one of the most famous men on Earth.

But things change as the decades pass, and Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon, died quietly over the weekend, his fame a faded memory. NBC News initially identified him as Neil Young, the musician, not Neil Armstrong, the astronaut whose accomplishments are immortal.

His died as he lived after his career as an astronaut was over — quietly. Armstrong's family announced that the 82-year-old died from "complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures."

But Armstrong and his colleagues at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration left an indelible mark on world history. Just eight years after President John F. Kennedy announced this country's goal of landing a man on the noon before the decade was out, Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins achieved that goal on July 20, 1969.

"The Eagle has landed," Armstrong impassively radioed from the moon's surface back to Earth.

His low-key demeanor gave no hint of what a harrowing experience Armstrong and Aldrin (Collins was piloting the command module) endured as they lowered the lunar lander 9 miles into the moon's Sea of Tranquility.

With fuel running low and the lander's now-prehistoric computer overtaxed to the point that it was flashing warning lights, Armstrong took manual control of the lander 500 feet above the moon, searched for a safe landing spot and put it down in the nick of time.

While Armstrong's demeanor gave no hint of the landing's difficulty or the threat of a crash landing caused by lack of fuel, his body functions told the tale. Armstrong's pulse was running at twice the normal rate.

But that, in a nutshell, was Neil Armstrong — unflappable.

That low-key style later irritated colleagues who hoped he would play an active role in promoting space exploration and reporters who sought him out for interviews. But Armstrong did not meet their expectations because self-promotion just wasn't in him.

"I am, and ever will be, a white-socks, pocket-protector, nerdy engineer," he joked.

That is so not true. There aren't enough words in the dictionary to describe the outstanding qualities that made Armstrong a hero to people all over the world.

After his NASA career was over, the Purdue University graduate taught engineering at the University of Cincinnati and later went into the private sector. Although he kept mostly out of the public eye, Armstrong served as the vice chairman of the commission that investigated the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger.

As always, Armstrong came back into the public forum to do his duty and then quickly return to the sidelines — an American hero who never saw himself as others did.

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