US astronaut Neil Armstrong. – File Photo by AP

WASHINGTON: US astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first person to set foot on the moon, has died, US media reported Saturday. He was 82.

Armstrong underwent cardiac bypass surgery, earlier this month after doctors found blockages in his coronary arteries. He and fellow Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon on July 20, 1969, before the eyes of hundreds of millions of awed television viewers worldwide.

His first words upon stepping on the lunar surface have since been etched in history: “That's one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.” An estimated 450 million people watched the grainy black and white broadcast that showed Armstrong, clad in a white space suit, climb down the lunar module's ladder onto the Moon's desolate surface.

As commander of the Apollo 11 mission, it was also Armstrong who had notified mission control that the module had made a successful landing.

“Houston, Tranquility base here. The Eagle has landed.” Born in Wapakoneta, Ohio on August 5, 1930, Armstrong had an early fascination with aircraft and worked at a nearby airport when he was a teenager.

He took flying lessons at the age of 15 and received his pilot's license on his 16th birthday.

A US Navy aviator, he flew 78 missions in the Korean War.

He studied Aeronautical Engineering at Purdue University in Indiana, and later earned a Master of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Southern California.

In 1955, he became a test pilot at the High-Speed Flight Station at Edwards Air Force Base in California, where he flew about 50 different types of aircraft.

Seven years later, Armstrong was selected by the National Air and Space Administration to train as an astronaut in Houston, Texas.

After retiring from NASA in 1971, Armstrong taught aerospace engineering at the University of Cincinnati for nearly a decade and served on the boards of several companies, including Lear Jet, United Airlines and Marathon Oil.

Despite his worldwide fame, the lunar pioneer shied away from the limelight. After learning his autographs were being sold at exorbitant prices, he stopped signing memorabilia.


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