This NASA file image shows US astronaut Neil Armstrong, the Apollo 11 Mission Commander, standing next to the Lunar Module "Eagle" on the moon in this July 20, 1969 file photo.
Credits: REUTERS/EDWIN ALDRIN
US astronaut Neil Armstrong, who took a giant leap for mankind when he became the first person to walk on the moon, has died at the age of 82.
Among the thousands - easily millions - of people Armstrong inspired is one of Canada's most prolific astronauts.
"I guess he's the first major role model that I've lost now that played such a big role in my education and career path," Robert Thirsk told QMI Agency.
"It's the end of an era," said the former Canadian Space Agency astronaut who participated in missions on the Space Shuttle Columbia and the International Space Station.
Armstrong's family said in a statement online that he died following complications from heart-bypass surgery he underwent earlier this month, just two days after his birthday on Aug. 5.
As commander of the Apollo 11 mission, Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969. As he stepped on the dusty surface, Armstrong said: "That's one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind."
Those words endure as one of the best known quotes in the English language.
Thirsk, 15 years old at the time, remembers exactly where he was during that historic event: in his hometown of Kelowna, B.C., in front of a TV at a friend's house.
"You couldn't make out too much detail, but it was unbelievable to think that these fuzzy blobs that were bobbing around on the television screen represented two people who were doing something very difficult and extraordinary and probably the most pivotal moment of the 20th century - and I was, in my way, vicariously partaking in it."
Neil Alden Armstrong was 38 years old at the time and even though he had fulfilled one of mankind's age-old quests that placed him at the pinnacle of human achievement, he did not revel in his accomplishment. He even seemed frustrated by the acclaim it brought.
"I guess we all like to be recognized not for one piece of fireworks but for the ledger of our daily work," Armstrong said in an interview on CBS's "60 Minutes" program in 2005.
He once was asked how he felt knowing his footprints would likely stay on the moon's surface for thousands of years. "I kind of hope that somebody goes up there one of these days and cleans them up," he said.
As for doubters who claim the moon landing was all a conspiracy, Thirsk said, "I don't give it more than a microsecond of thought. I find it annoying that the science culture in the world is so low that people like that get support."
"The next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink," his family said in their statement.
The Canadian Space Agency (@csa_asc) tweeted late Saturday afternoon: Neil Armstrong has now reached the stars. Thank you, Neil. #hero #RIPNeilArmstrong #WinkAtTheMoon
Armstrong is survived by his two sons, a stepson and stepdaughter, 10 grandchildren, a brother and a sister, NASA said.
--with files from Reuters