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Neil Armstrong: modest man, large footprint in time and space

Neil Armstrong's walk on the moon July 20, 1969, marked the high point of US manned spaceflight, but the commander of the Apollo 11 mission was wary of the celebrity that came with it.

In this May 12, 2012, file photo, former astronaut Neil Armstrong testifies before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing on NASA's proposed budget and the future of the manned spaceflight program on Capitol Hill. In all, 12 Americans walked on the moon from 1969 to 1972.

Cliff Owen/AP/File

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Neil Armstrong, who died today following heart surgery, never wanted to be remembered simply as the first man on the moon.

Once credited with the most recognized name in the world,  Armstrong avoided the outsized celebrity of the early NASA astronauts, whose storied missions not only advanced a US profile in space but also helped define the cold-war struggle with the Soviet Union, whose 1957 Sputnik launch stunned the world.

The images of the first moonwalk with Buzz Aldrin July 20, 1969, marked the high point of the US manned space program. His signature, and often misquoted, line – "That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind" – soared to iconic status.

But Armstrong, who also flew combat missions in Korea, brushed aside all talk of hero status, at least for himself.

"We all like to be recognized not for one piece of fireworks but for the ledger of our daily work," he said in a 2007 interview with "60 Minutes." As for all the celebrity: "I don't deserve it," he said.

After commanding the Apollo 11 mission, Armstrong took a desk job at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, then taught engineering at the University of Cincinnati, served on several corporate boards, and worked out of his farm in southwest Ohio. He said he regretted not spending the time he wanted to with his family.


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