Neil Armstrong was a soft-spoken engineer who became a global hero when as a steely-nerved pilot he made "one giant leap for mankind" with a small step onto the moon. The modest man, who had people on Earth entranced and awed from almost a quarter-million miles away, but credited others for the feat, died Saturday. He was 82.
Armstrong died after complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures, his family said in a statement. Armstrong had a bypass operation this month, according to NASA. His family didn't say where he died; he had lived in suburban Cincinnati.
Armstrong commanded the Apollo 11 spacecraft that landed on the moon July 20, 1969, capping the most daring of the 20th century's scientific expeditions. His first words after becoming the first person to set foot on the surface are etched in history books and the memories of those who heard them in a live broadcast.
"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," Armstrong said. (Armstrong insisted later that he had said "a" before man, but said he couldn't hear it either in the version that went to the world.)
In those first few moments on the moon, during the climax of a heated space race with the then-Soviet Union, Armstrong stopped in what he called "a tender moment" and left a patch to commemorate NASA astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts who had died in action.
Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin spent nearly three hours walking on the lunar surface. "The sights were simply magnificent, beyond any visual experience that I had ever been exposed to," Armstrong once said.
The moonwalk marked America's victory in the Cold War space race that began Oct. 4, 1957, with the launch of the Soviet Union's Sputnik 1, a 184-pound satellite that sent shock waves around the world.
Although he had been a Navy fighter pilot, a test pilot for NASA's forerunner and an astronaut, Armstrong never allowed himself to be caught up in the celebrity and glamour of the space program.
"I am, and ever will be, a white socks, pocket protector, nerdy engineer," he said in 2000 in one of his rare public appearances. "And I take a substantial amount of pride in the accomplishments of my profession."
Fellow Ohioan and astronaut John Glenn, one of Armstrong's closest friends, recalled Saturday how Armstrong was down to the last 15 seconds to 35 seconds of fuel when he finally brought the Eagle down on the Sea of Tranquility. "That showed a dedication to what he was doing that was admirable," Glenn said.
Armstrong was born Aug. 5, 1930, on a farm near Wapakoneta in Ohio. He took his first airplane ride at age 6 and developed a fascination with aviation. As a boy, he worked at a pharmacy and took flying lessons. He was licensed to fly at 16, before he got his driver's license.
In later years, Armstrong retreated to the quiet of the classroom and his southwestern Ohio farm.
An estimated 600 million people -- a fifth of the world's population -- watched and listened to the 1969 moon landing, the largest audience for any single event in history.
For anyone who wants to remember him, his family's statement made 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."