Video: Memorial service honors Neil Armstrong

NBC News and news services
updated 8/31/2012 8:41:57 PM ET 2012-09-01T00:41:57

U.S. flags flew at half-staff on Friday in memory of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, who was honored by fellow astronauts and other VIPs as a "brave, reluctant hero."

Armstrong passed away on Aug. 25 at the age of 82, due to complications that arose from heart surgery earlier in the month. President Barack Obama ordered that flags be flown at half-staff as a mark of respect for Armstrong, who landed on the moon on July 20, 1969, with Apollo 11 crewmate Buzz Aldrin.

Image: Neil Armstrong Family Memorial Service
Bill Ingalls / NASA via EPA
Apollo 11 astronauts Michael Collins, left, and Buzz Aldrin share a lighter moment at a private memorial service celebrating the life of Neil Armstrong, at the Camargo Club in Cincinnati on Friday.

It was Armstrong, the mission commander, who first emerged from the lunar module and placed the first human footprint on a celestial body beyond Earth. "That's one small step for a man — one giant leap for mankind," he declared.

A national memorial service is due to take place in Washington on Sept. 13, but so far Armstrong has been honored at a series of smaller-scale ceremonies — including a memorial service that was conducted earlier this week in Wapakoneta, the Ohio town where he was born, and services on Friday at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Alabama and NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The main focus of Friday's memorials was a private service conducted in suburban Cincinnati. Several of Armstrong's fellow Apollo astronauts were in attendance — including Aldrin as well as Michael Collins, who manned Apollo 11's command module while his two crewmates went down to the lunar surface.

The VIPs also included retired senator-astronaut John Glenn, 91, who became the first American to go into Earth orbit in 1962. Armstrong was a guest of honor earlier this year at a banquet at Ohio State University celebrating the 50th anniversary of Glenn's feat.

'Humble servant' saluted
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden called Armstrong "a pioneering American ... an explorer, a patriot and an individual who, with 'one small step,' achieved an impossible dream."

"His remarkable achievements will be forever remembered, and his grace and humility will always be admired," Bolden said in a statement keyed to the memorial service. "As we take the next giant leap forward in human exploration of our vast universe, we stand on the shoulders of this brave, reluctant hero. Neil Armstrong's first step on the moon paved the way for others to be the 'first' to step foot on another planet. We have an obligation to carry on this uniquely American legacy.

"A grateful nation offers praise and salutes a humble servant who answered the call and dared to dream," Bolden said.

After the service, Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders praised Armstrong for his wisdom and humility. "You'll never get a hero, in my view, like Neil Armstrong," Anders told The Associated Press. "It's going to be hard to top."

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican and friend of the Armstrong family, picked up on the description of Armstrong as a "reluctant hero" in his eulogy. Afterward, he said the ceremony blended deep emotion and humor. "He touched the lives of so many," Portman said.

Image: Family at memorial service
Bill Ingalls / NASA
Carol Armstrong, wife of Neil Armstrong, and Piper Van Wagenen, one of the late astronaut's 10 grandchildren, watch an honor guard pass by during a memorial service on Friday at the Camargo Club in Cincinnati.

The service included remembrances from Armstrong's two sons, Rick and Mark; tunes from a bagpiper corps; and songs including "When the Saints Go Marching In." Four Navy fighter planes flew overhead at the end of the service, with one flying upward as a "missing man" tribute to Armstrong, a former Navy pilot who flew combat missions in Korea.

Astronauts remember Armstrong
Hours before the service, Apollo 17 commander Eugene Cernan and Apollo 13 commander James Lovell helped launch a health fund in Armstrong's honor at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. "America has truly lost a legend," Cernan said at a gathering to kick off the hospital's Neil Armstrong New Frontiers Initiative. Armstrong's widow, Carol, is on the hospital's board.

Cernan said Armstrong was a hero who "came from the culture of our country," growing up on a western Ohio farm, flying combat missions and then joining the space program.

Cernan and Lovell recounted visiting U.S troops in Iraq and Afghanistan with Armstrong, saying he always had an inspirational impact when meeting troops, schoolchildren and other admirers around the world.

Lovell said Armstrong was "a great American" who never capitalized on his celebrity and just "wanted to be a team player." While Armstrong said any of the astronauts could have been the first to walk on the moon, Lovell and Cernan said Armstrong was the right choice for the way he handled suddenly becoming an icon.

"There's nobody that I know of that could have accepted the challenge and responsibility that came with being that with more dignity than Neil Armstrong," Cernan said.

Cernan was the last astronaut to walk on the moon. Lovell was commander of Apollo 13, where an oxygen tank in the spaceship exploded and the moon mission was aborted.

Lovell and Cernan said they had visited Armstrong two months ago in his suburban Indian Hill home, and he cooked breakfast for them — and burned the eggs, Cernan said. "Neil Armstrong was probably one of the most human guys I've ever known in my life," he said.

A life devoted to flight
Raised in Wapakoneta, Armstrong developed an early love for aviation. He flew 78 combat missions during the Korean War as a Navy pilot, then became a test pilot after finishing college. Accepted into NASA's second astronaut class in 1962, he commanded the Gemini 8 mission in 1966. That set the stage for the historic Apollo 11 mission in 1969, which was watched by hundreds of millions of people around the world.

After his space career, Armstrong returned to Ohio, teaching aerospace engineering at the University of Cincinnati and generally avoiding public view for most of the rest of his life.

  1. Space news from NBCNews.com
    1. KARE
      Teen's space mission fueled by social media

      Science editor Alan Boyle's blog: "Astronaut Abby" is at the controls of a social-media machine that is launching the 15-year-old from Minnesota to Kazakhstan this month for the liftoff of the International Space Station's next crew.

    2. Buzz Aldrin's vision for journey to Mars
    3. Giant black hole may be cooking up meals
    4. Watch a 'ring of fire' solar eclipse online

Armstrong is survived by his wife and two sons as well as a stepson and stepdaughter, 10 grandchildren, a brother and a sister. After Armstrong's death, the family issued a statement calling him a "reluctant American hero who always believed he was just doing his job." The statement also asked well-wishers to take a look at the moon, "think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink."

Memorial contributions may be made to the hospital fund or two scholarship funds that have been set up in the astronaut's name.

More about Neil Armstrong:

This report includes information from NBC News and The Associated Press.

© 2013 msnbc.com

Photos: Neil Armstrong: 1930-2012

loading photos...
  1. American hero

    Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong, who passed away on Aug. 25, 2012, will be forever known as the first man to set foot on the moon. This 1969 portrait shows Armstrong in his spacesuit, standing in front of a large photograph of the lunar surface. (NASA via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Family portrait

    Astronaut Neil Armstrong is pictured with his wife, Janet, and his two sons, Eric and Mark, on Aug. 26, 1963. (Ralph Morse / Time & Life Pictures via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. In training

    Neil Armstrong is buckled up at a NASA training center on Sept. 1, 1963. (Ralph Morse / Time & Life Pictures via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Flying bedstead

    Neil Armstrong strides alongside a lunar landing research vehicle, also known as a "flying bedstead," at Edwards Air Force Base in California on Aug. 1, 1964. The LLRV was used to train astronauts for landings on the moon. In 1968, Armstrong had to eject from an LLRV when the flight controls failed. It was one of the astronaut's closest calls. (Ralph Morse / Time & Life Pictures via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Suited up

    Neil Armstrong sits in a mock space capsule, dressed in a full Navy Mark IV pressure suit (except for the helmet), during training for his Gemini space mission in the mid-1960s. (Ralph Morse / Time & Life Pictures via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Gemini 8

    Commander Neil Armstrong (foreground) and pilot David Scott prepare to get into their Gemini 8 capsule on March 16, 1966. The mission marked the first docking of two spacecraft in orbit, but ended prematurely due to a thruster malfunction. Armstrong got the spacecraft under control and brought the capsule safely back to Earth for a Pacific splashdown. (NASA via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. The trio of Apollo

    Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins and Neil Armstrong, the crew of Apollo 11, pose with a model of the moon in 1969. (Ralph Morse / Time & Life Pictures via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Practice run

    Apollo 11's Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins stand by a mock Apollo capsule during water egress training in the Gulf of Mexico. (Science Society Picture Library via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Rehearsal for landing

    Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong poses with a landing simulator at the Lunar Landing Research Facility at NASA's Langley Research Center on Feb. 12, 1969. (NASA / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. At ease

    Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin stand in front of their Saturn 5 rocket at NASA's Kennedy Space Center on May 20, 1969, during preparations for their mission. (NASA via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Checking out the seats

    Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin wear clean-room gear during a walk-through egress test in their command module on June 10, 1969. (NASA via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Meet the press

    The crew members of the Apollo 11 lunar landing mission, Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins, get comfortable during a press conference in July 1969. (NASA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Time for study

    Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong reviews flight plans on July 14, 1969. (NASA via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Checking the fit

    Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin get ready to train for extravehicular activity, under the watchful eye of chief astronaut Deke Slayton (right). (NASA via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Here's the scoop

    Neil Armstrong takes a photo of a sample that Buzz Aldrin is about to collect with a large scoop during a training session. (NASA via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. On their way

    Neil Armstrong waves as he and his Apollo 11 crewmates head for the van that will take them to the Saturn 5 rocket for launch to the moon from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 16, 1969. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Fire in the sky

    The Apollo 11 mission's Saturn 5 rocket climbs toward orbit after liftoff from Launch Pad 39A at 9:32 a.m. ET on July 16, 1969. This photo was taken with a 70mm telescopic camera mounted on an Air Force EC-135N plane. Onboard were astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin. (Science Society Picture Library via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Shadow on the moon

    Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong captures his own shadow on film while taking a photo of the lunar module on the moon's surface in July 1969. (Neil Armstrong / NASA via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Star-spangled moon

    A frame from a 16mm movie shows Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin setting up an American flag on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 11 lunar mission on July 20, 1969. (Time & Life Pictures / NASA via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. One small step

    Neil Armstrong steps into history on July 20, 1969, by leaving the first human footprint on the surface of the moon. (NASA via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Reflecting on history

    Astronaut Buzz Aldrin stands on the moon next to the lunar module in this photo, taken by Neil Armstrong on July 20, 1969. Aldrin's helmet visor reflects back the scene in front of him, including a small image of Armstrong taking the picture. (Neil Armstrong / NASA via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Astronaut at work

    Neil Armstrong is seen near the lunar lander and the U.S. flag in a picture taken by Buzz Aldrin on the surface of the moon on July 20, 1969. (Buzz Aldrin / NASA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Watching from afar

    Ten thousand spectators gathered to watch giant television screens in New York's Central Park and cheer as astronaut Neil Armstrong took humanity's first step on the moon on July 20, 1969. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Homeward bound

    The lunar module, with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin aboard, approaches the Apollo 11 command module for a rendezvous on July 21, 1969, marking the first leg of the homeward journey. A half-Earth is seen in the background. (NASA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. All smiles

    Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin laugh along with President Richard Nixon aboard the USS Hornet. The president was on hand to greet the astronauts after their splashdown in the Pacific on July 24, 1969. The crew was in a quarantine facility as a post-flight precaution. (Richard Nixon Foundation / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Laughing at quarantine

    Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin are in high spirits as they look out through the window of their mobile quarantine van on July 24, 1969. (NASA via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Family reunion

    Neil Armstrong greets his son Mark on the telephone intercom system while his wife Janet and his other son Eric look on at Ellington Air Force Base in Texas on July 27, 1969. Armstrong and his crewmates were quarantined for 21 days after landing back on Earth, out of concern that they might have brought harmful germs back with them from the moon. (NASA via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Free at last

    Neil Armstrong greets friends after being released from quarantine on Aug. 10, 1969. (NASA via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Ticker-tape parade

    Apollo 11 astronauts Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong wave to crowds as they celebrate their return from the moon in a New York ticker-tape parade on Aug. 13, 1969. (Time & Life Pictures / NASA via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Behind a desk

    After Apollo 11, Neil Armstrong was appointed deputy associate administrator for aeronautics at NASA Headquarters in Washington. In this picture, Armstrong is seen in his Washington office on July 23, 1970. He resigned from NASA in 1971, and became active in academia and the corporate world. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Dealing with tragedy

    After the shuttle Challenger exploded in 1986, Neil Armstrong was chosen to serve as the vice chairman of the presidential commission set up to investigate the tragedy. Armstrong is seen here listening to testimony before the commission in Washington on Feb. 11, 1986. Another member of the commission, David Acheson, listens in the background. (Scott Stewart / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. 30 years later

    Neil Armstrong is awarded the Samuel P. Langley Medal in front of the Apollo 11 command module at the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, during a ceremony on July 20, 1999, marking the 30th anniversary of the first moon landing. Vice President Al Gore, applauding at right, presented medals to Armstrong as well as to Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. (Joyce Naltchayan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. A piece of history

    Museumgoers walk around the Apollo 11 command module at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington on July 16, 2009, the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11's launch. (Mark Wilson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. 40 years later

    Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins stand in front of a lunar module exhibit at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington on July 19, 2009, the eve of the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. (Mark Avino / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Hailed by the chief

    President Barack Obama speaks with Neil Armstrong and fellow Apollo 11 crew members Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins during an Oval Office meeting on July 20, 2009, the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing. (Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Hero on the Hill

    Retired NASA astronaut Neil Armstrong is welcomed by Norman Augustine (left), chairman of the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee, and retired astronaut Eugene Cernan (obscured), commander of Apollo 17 mission, before the three testified on Capitol Hill on May 12, 2010. Armstong, Cernan and Augustine testified before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on the future of U.S. human spaceflight. During his testimony, Armstrong said he was "not confident" about the commercial market's ability to provide safe and reliable hardware for human spaceflight. (Win McNamee / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Gold medal

    Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong is presented with the Congressional Gold Medal during a ceremony in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol on Nov. 16, 2011. The gold medals were presented to Armstrong and his fellow crew members from Apollo 11, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin, and to retired senator-astronaut John Glenn, the first American to go into Earth orbit. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Celebration time

    Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong speaks during a celebration dinner at Ohio State University in Columbus, marking the 50th anniversary of retired senator-astronaut John Glenn's historic flight aboard Friendship 7. It was one of the last high-profile public events Armstrong attended. (Bill Ingalls / NASA via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  1. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  2. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  3. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  4. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments