Neil Armstrong, who made mankind's first steps on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission in 1969 -- which finally made extraterrestrial travel seem real and gave the US a lead in the Cold War space race -- has died. He was 82 and had undergone heart surgery earlier this month.
A record TV audience of 528 million people worldwide watched Armstrong, the mission commander, step off the ladder of the lunar module Eagle and onto the moon's surface at 10.56pm New York time on July 20, 1969.
He was followed by pilot Edwin 'Buzz' Aldrin about 20 minutes later. Michael Collins remained in orbit in the command module that would take them all home.
"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," Armstrong said, a sentence that became one of the most quoted of the 20th century. He told NASA interviewers that he had intended to say "a man," and that the article "a" might have been lost in transmission. He said his inspiration was the children's game known as 'Baby Steps, Giant Steps'.
The final minutes of the four-day, 239,000-mile trip to the moon had tested Armstrong's famous cool under pressure.
Piloting the lunar module, he searched for a safe landing spot amid rough terrain, finally touching down with about 20 seconds of fuel left.
Back in Houston, mission control had been on the verge of ordering him to abort the landing and return to the command module.
"Houston, Tranquility Base here," Armstrong radioed home. "The Eagle has landed."
Apollo 11 fulfilled President John F Kennedy's pledge of May 1961 to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade, as the world's two superpowers jockeyed for advantage in space.
Armstrong was an enigma to his NASA colleagues and to the American public, who rarely saw him after he left the Apollo programme.
On one hand, he was widely respected in aviation circles and considered the natural choice to lead the first lunar-landing mission.
A man of few words, Armstrong also exhibited an aloofness that troubled those who worked with him. He "never transmits anything but the surface layer -- and that only sparingly," Collins, his Apollo 11 crewmate, wrote.
"I like him, but I don't know what to make of him or how to get to know him better."
The loner with the "breakfast food face," as writer Norman Mailer described it, willingly relinquished the public podium to Aldrin after the mission and faded into obscurity as he sought to play down his groundbreaking role in history.
While Aldrin did the Hollywood party circuit and appeared on talk shows, Armstrong took refuge on his Ohio dairy farm and accepted modest jobs in academia and business that seemed to suit his self-effacing image.
Armstrong first came to Ireland in April 1997, visiting Tralee to open the NASA-ESA space exhibition at the Kerry County Museum.
"He was a shy and unassuming man," said John Griffin, the Kerry tourism officer who spent four days with him during the visit. Speaking from Tralee last night, he said Armstrong didn't do public appearances at that time, but loved his time in Kerry where 10,000 people turned out to greet him.
He visited Killarney and Dingle and played golf with Dick Spring in Ballybunion. He also attended a performance of Siamsa Tire in Tralee, which he said reminded him of growing up in rural Ohio as a boy.
On another visit to Ireland, he came to Dublin, where he was interviewed at a National Concert Hall event presented by broadcaster Gay Byrne.
To Armstrong, fame was not just unwanted, but unwarranted.
Being first to land on the moon "is sort of happenstance," he told a NASA interviewer in 1966, when it was unclear who would get the honour.
"It's not the same sort of thing as when Lindbergh crossed the ocean," an aviation milestone that was "based on his own ideas and his own techniques and his own accomplishments".
Neil Alden Armstrong was born on August 5, 1930, near Wapakoneta, Ohio, on his grandparents' farm. During his childhood, he moved frequently while his father, Stephen, travelled around the state working as an auditor.
He developed an early love of airplanes, taking his first flight when he was about six years old in Warren, Ohio.
After earning an aeronautical-engineering degree from Purdue in January 1955, he became a research pilot for NASA's predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, at a centre in Cleveland, and transferred to the High-Speed Flight Station at California's Edwards Air Force Base in July 1955.
NASA chose a new group of astronauts in early 1962 to join the original Project Mercury members in piloting the two-man 'Gemini' spacecraft. The goal was to learn how to rendezvous and dock vehicles in orbit.
In September 1962, NASA introduced Armstrong as one of nine new astronauts.
He was named back-up commander for Apollo 8, the December 1968 mission that put the first humans in orbit around the moon.
Once that mission was successfully under way, Armstrong was ready for his next assignment.
Deke Slayton, head of the astronaut office, proposed that he lead Apollo 11.
In April 1969, NASA said Armstrong would be the first to step out onto the moon's surface. Apollo 11 blasted off from Kennedy Space centre in Florida on July 16.
Armstrong quit the astronaut corps in May 1970 to become a NASA administrator for a year before leaving, partly from the constant demand for official public appearances.
Armstrong married Janet Shearon in January 1956. They had two sons, Eric and Mark. A daughter, Karen, died in 1962 at three years old after a six-month battle with a brain tumour.
The couple divorced in 1994 after 38 years of marriage. Armstrong then married Carol Knight, whom he had met two years earlier at a golf tournament.
In a 2011 interview, Armstrong said he wasn't bothered that a small bit persistent group of conspiracy theorists believed the moon landing was a hoax staged by the US government.
"It was never a concern to me," Armstrong said, "because I know that one day, somebody's going to go fly back up there and pick up that camera I left. So then they'll be sure."