(Sen) - Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the Moon, has died at the age of 82. And the world mourns the loss of a man who achieved something no other human can ever do - to take the first steps on a world other than the Earth.
Such an historic event on the Apollo 11 mission marked this NASA astronaut out as a very special person. But it was a measure of the man that Armstrong was never affected by his achievement, retiring soon afterwards to relative obscurity as he pursued an academic career.
Photographed by Buzz Aldrin, this is the only good picture of Neil Armstrong on the Moon. Credit: NASA
Armstrong, who died of complications following heart surgery earlier this month, was always modest about his role in landing in the Sea of Tranquillity with Buzz Aldrin in July 1969 while the third member of their crew, Michael Collins, orbited in the command module overhead.
Armstrong would deny that he was a risk-taker and refer to the huge backup team on Earth who helped ensure their safety. But the pioneers of space exploration were all heroes and the first Moon landing, little more than eight years after the first man had flown in space, was an amazing success.
Every astronaut back in the Sixties was taking a chance with his life simply by blasting into space atop vast tanks of fuel that made their rockets virtual bombs. Even today, space flight is never routine.
And in flying to the Moon, there was every chance that astronauts could miss their target, crash or be marooned and never able to return. It is known that then US President Richard Nixon was ready to address the nation if such a disaster occurred.
Apollo 11 crew dining in the Crew Reception Area of the Lunar Receiving Laboratory, July 30, 1969. The crew were in quarantine until August 11.
What is clear is that the Moon landing, ordered by President John F Kennedy and the climax of a space race driven by the Cold War competition of superpowers the US and the Soviet Union, inspired a generation around the world.
This writer is old enough to remember the Apollo 11 mission well. As a teenager, I stayed up all night to witness first the landing of lunar module Eagle, and then, after an agonisingly long wait, the exit to the lunar surface by Armstong and Aldrin.
The grainy, grey images were hard to see on TV. But we caught Neil's first historic words: "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for Mankind." To be honest it seemed slightly rehearsed, and it sounded like he said "for man" rather than "for a man", but never mind. We were elated.
Next day we had to go to school, bleary eyed from lack of sleep, but all aware we were witnessing history in the making. Why, the headmaster had even organised a TV in the school hall for us to watch the unfolding events.
Armstrong had already made a name for himself in the Korean War, flying several combat missions. Later as a test pilot he had a major scrape in a B-29 Superfortress when all but one of the four propellor engines failed but they landed safely.
The Apollo 11 crew returned as heroes. Here the crew are paraded in New York. Credit: NASA
After becoming an astronaut, Armstrong faced disaster again in September 1965 when his two-man Gemini 8 spacecraft began spinning after docking with a satellite. He brought it safely home to a splashdown in the Pacific.
He showed his cool side while training for the Apollo landing. A test model of the lander, nicknamed a "flying bedstead" went out of control in 1968 and Armstrong had to eject with a bitten tongue as his only injury. Calmly he went straight back to his office to work.
Even the Apollo 11 landing turned into a drama. As lunar module Eagle approached the surface, Armstrong could see that their planned landing site was full of boulders. He overrode the computer to fly further to a safer site and landed with just seconds of fuel to spare.
When he returned to quarantine, Armstrong was not happy with fame. He retired from NASA in 1971 for an academic career and to work in business.
Armstrong was survived by his wife, Carol, two sons, a stepson, a stepdaughter, and ten grandchildren.
Last night US President Barack Obama said: "Neil Armstrong was a hero not just of his time, but of all time. Thank you, Neil, for showing us the power of one small step."
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said: "As long as there are history books, Neil Armstrong will be included in them, remembered for taking humankind's first small step on a world beyond our own.
"Besides being one of America's greatest explorers, Neil carried himself with a grace and humility that was an example to us all. When President Kennedy challenged the nation to send a human to the Moon, Neil Armstrong accepted without reservation.
"As we enter this next era of space exploration, we do so standing on the shoulders of Neil Armstrong. We mourn the passing of a friend, fellow astronaut and true American hero."
Armstrong's family released a statement that said: "We are heartbroken to share the news that Neil Armstrong has passed away following complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures.
"Neil Armstrong was a reluctant American hero who always believed he was just doing his job.
"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 honour Neil, we have a simple request. Honour 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."