This Day in History: US Astronaut Neil Armstrong Walks on the Moon in 1969

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

The immortal words of American astronaut Neil Armstrong, uttered on July 20, 1969, when he became the first man to set foot on the moon.

Along with astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins aboard Apollo 11, NASA made history this day 48 years ago, inspired by a 1961 speech by then President John F. Kennedy Jr., who made the challenge during an address to Congress at the height of the Cold War:

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.” 

Armstrong changed the world that day, and himself, according to a BBC documentary.  

In it, friends and family describe how the fame of that moment was overwhelming.  

Shy by nature, Armstrong would rarely would speak of his achievement over the years, adding mystery and a certain enigmatic quality to his public personality.  Armstrong didn’t like being singled out, noting the Moon mission was a team effort.

“He really didn’t know what he wanted to do,” Neil’s sister, June Armstrong says in the BBC piece. “‘What am I going to do now? What can I do?’”

He became reclusive. But in 2005, Armstrong appeared in an interview with CBS’s Ed Bradley on 60 Minutes, where he described the feeling of that famed moon walk.

“It’s a brilliant surface in that sunlight. The horizon seems quite close to you because the curvature is so much more pronounced than here on Earth. It’s an interesting place to be. I recommend it.”

Armstrong died August 25, 2012, at the age of 82.

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