Neil Armstrong

Neil Armstrong, whose name took on greater cultural meaning as the living incarnation of the world's capacity for scientific achievement, as evinced in his famous words, "one giant leap for mankind," commanded the Apollo 11 mission to the Earth's moon and became the first human to set foot on it in July 1969. Armstrong's story followed a near-archetypal path, an unassuming small-town boy whose fascination with the possibilities of an age of wonders drew him to achieve the once unimaginable. Able to fly airplanes before he could legally drive a car, he went on to a decorated hitch with the U.S. Navy, seeing action in Korea, then became one of America's foremost jet-propulsion test-pilots. Selected by the National Aerospace Administration (NASA) to be an astronaut in the Gemini and Apollo programs, Armstrong coolly navigated through a potentially disastrous glitch in the Gemini 8 mission in 1966, bespeaking skill and character that NASA would deem paramount for the commander of the Apollo 11 mission, the first to land a manned craft on the moon. On July 20, 1969, Armstrong did just that in an internationally broadcast spectacle. Celebrated globally, he nevertheless veered away from public life in his post-NASA years, becoming a professor of engineering, farmer and a businessman. In the 1990s, however, he offered his voice to both documentary and narrative media projects, and re-emerged to appear for a number of 40th anniversary celebrations of the moon-landing. Armstrong remained the rare iteration of someone who quietly set a new bar for human endeavor and went about his life privately, opting out of the frenzied marketplace of the great American cult of celebrity.