First moon walker Neil Armstrong has died, aged 82 - read his 1999 chat with The Star

Tributes: Neil Armstrong, first man to walk on the moon, has died - aged 82.
Tributes: Neil Armstrong, first man to walk on the moon, has died - aged 82.

SPACEMAN Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the Moon, has died at the age of 82.

The former NASA astronaut suffered complications from heart surgery he underwent earlier this month, his family said.

Armstrong, who was Apollo 11 captain, boldly went where no man had gone before when he stepped out of the Lunar Module and straight into the history books in July 1969.

“That’s one small step for man ... one giant leap for mankind,’’ he proclaimed to the 600 million people estimated to be watching or listening back home.

It’s possibly the most famous quote by the most famous man, certainly of the 20th century.

Yet the reluctant hero rarely talked about it and remained reclusive, giving few interviews

The Star’s Graham Walker caught up with him when Armstrong was a guest speaker at the Yorkshire International Business Festival, in Harrogate, in the summer of 1999.

In a tribute to the pioneer, who will forever inspire man to conquer the final frontier, here’s what Armstrong had to say.

He spoke about blasting off in the giant Saturn V rocket, landing in The Eagle, the Lunar Module, on the moon’s Sea Of Tranquillity and what it was really like to walk on the moon.

Had he considered what he would say when he stepped off the ladder on to the surface, at precisely 2.56am (GMT) on July 21.

Armstrong admitted he did.

He said: “It was not extemporaneous and neither was it planned. It evolved during the flight and I decided what the words would be while we were on the lunar surface just prior to leaving the lunar module.”

His one small step also brought an end to the space race between the USA and Russia , which began in 1961 when President Kennedy vowed to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade.

Armstrong recalled: “In 1969 I found myself in a remarkable position, in a spacecraft actually trying to get to the moon and, perhaps more remarkably, believing that it might just be possible.

“Let me tell you, you can’t sit in any kind of machine and accelerate to 7,000 mph in a couple of minutes out of orbit and not suspect that something is going on,’’ he laughed.

“But it was on the night side of the Earth. When we came out into daylight you could see ... and it was overwhelming.

“We seemed to be perfectly motionless with the Earth just dropping away. Finally, it was a complete sphere, a giant blue medicine ball, floating away from us into the inky black sky.

“I said to myself, ‘Boy, this time you’ve really gone and done it!

“But there was too much to do, too many things to look at, to be amazed at - too much conversation, not just between ourselves, but with the people back on Earth at Mission Control.

He laughed: “Every few minutes we would hear,’Hello, this is Houston ‘. I don’t know why they said that ... who else would it be?” Armstrong explained just what it is like to be standing on the moon.

He said: “The moon, when we got there, was as spectacular as our departure from Earth.

“It no longer looked like a disc, as it does here on Earth, but rather a three dimensional globe - a giant ball covered with craters, ridges and plains. I think it’s the most spectacular thing I’ve ever seen.

“It’s an interesting place to visit. The sky’s jet black, even at noon , while the surface is brightly illuminated. It’s a bit like going to a football game in a lit stadium at night.

“The sun rises in the East and sets in the West, as it does on Earth. But the Earth stays fixed in the sky day and night.

“Lunar gravity is also very pleasant. It’s a sixth of what it is on Earth. With my suit and back-pack my Earth weight was about 365 1bs. So lunar weight was just over 60 lbs.

“Carrying a load actually improves your traction and walkability.

“To survive there humans have to be pressurised. If you fall or puncture your suit, people back on Earth will have a very nice memorial for you.”

Armstrong set two other records – both during the Gemini 8 mission, in March 1966. One was to be the first person to dock two orbiting spacecraft.

“I also set another record on that flight,’’ he explained. “In those days we landed in the ocean by parachute, which wasn’t a very elegant arrival. We took great pride in landing close to the aircraft carrier that was awaiting us. My carrier ship was waiting in the Caribbean and I landed by the Hook of Holland . It’s the furthest that anyone’s ever missed.”

A manned trip to Mars looks certain to be the next giant leap for mankind. But forget going anywhere else for now. We’re light years away from Star Trek style warp speeds.

Armstrong pointed out that if we could travel 100-times faster than our current impressive top speed, of 8km a second, it would still take 16 centuries to reach the nearest neighbouring star.

Tributes have been pouring in to the icon of space travel.

US president Barack Obama tweeted: “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.”

Astronomer Sir Patrick Moore said: “As the first man on the Moon, he broke all records. I knew him well. He was a man who had all the courage in the world.”

TV physicist Professor Brian Cox tweeted: “Sad to hear about death of Neil Armstrong. I do think Apollo was the greatest of human achievements. For once, we reached beyond our grasp.”


* The Apollo 11 crew was Neil Armstrong, commander; Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, lunar module pilot; and Michael Collins, command module pilot.

* Their mission, to perform the first lunar landing and return safely to Earth, ran from July 16 to July 24.1969.

* The Saturn 5 rocket launched from Kennedy Space Centre on July 16, 1969 , at 1.32pm (UTC/GMT).

* The Lunar Module (LM) touched down on the moon’s surface, with Armstrong and Aldrin inside, on July 20, 1969 at 8.17pm (UTC/GMT).

* Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon, uttering the famous “one small step” quote, on July 21, 1969 at 2.56am (UTC/GMT).

* Aldrin was actually the first man to talk on the moon – albeit technical jargon, as the LM touched down. He was also the first man to take Communion, in the LM.

* Armstrong and Aldrin spent a total of 21 hours and 36 minutes on the moon.

* The footprints they left on the moon’s surface will remain undisturbed because there are no changing weather conditions.

* An estimated 600 million people watched the fuzzy black and white TV pictures of the mission back on Earth.

* Michael Collins, who stayed in the moon’s orbit as he piloted the Command Module, designed the famous mission patch, showing an eagle, a symbol of the United States , carrying an olive branch, a symbol of peace. Collins added the lunar surface below and the Earth in the background.

* There have been six manned moon landings, the last in 1972.