Neil Armstrong Quotes

Neil Armstrong Pictures - Portrait of Astronaut Neil Armstrong, commander of the Apollo 11 mission
Neil Armstrong Pictures - Portrait of Astronaut Neil A. Armstrong, commander of the Apollo 11 mission.

Astronaut Neil Armstrong, who lived from 1930 to 2012, is widely regarded as an American hero. His bravery and skill earned him the honor of being the first human to ever set foot on the Moon. As a result he has been looked to for insight into the human condition as well as commentary on the state of technology and space exploration. Although he was a quiet man and not interested in being in the public eye after his storied career with NASA, his words during and after his time as an astronaut still resonate strongly with people. 

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That's One Small Step For Man, One Giant Leap for Mankind.

Astronaut footprint on the moon
Stocktrek/ Stockbyte/ Getty Images

Neil Armstrong's most famous quote is one that actually doesn't quite make sense since "Man" and "Mankind" have the same meaning. Neil Armstrong actually meant to say "... one small step for a man..." referring to himself setting foot on the Moon and his first footstep on the Moon having deep implications for all people. The astronaut himself mused that he hoped that the annals of history would analyze his words for what he meant to say during the Apollo 11 mission's lunar landing. He also said, upon listening to the tape, that there wasn't much time for him to say all the words he'd planned to say. 

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Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has Landed.

Apollo 11 Image
Apollo 11 Image. NASA

On the night in 1969 when the spacecraft piloted by Neil Armstrong settled down onto the surface of the Moon, millions of people around the world were listening via radio or watching it happen on TV.  The landing sequence was risky, and as each milestone was reached, Armstrong or Aldrin would announce it.  When they finally landed, Armstrong let the world know that they'd made it. Their simple statement was a huge relief to the people at Mission Control, who knew he had only a few seconds of fuel left to complete the landing. Luckily, the landing area was relatively safe, and as soon as he saw it was a smooth patch of lunar ground, that's where Armstrong put his craft.

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I Believe That Every Human Has a Finite Number of Heartbeats...

Neil Armstrong Pictures - Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong In Simulator
Neil Armstrong Pictures - Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong In Simulator.

The full quote is "I believe that every human has a finite number of heartbeats and I don't intend to waste any of mine." Some report that the phrase ended with "running around doing exercises." though it is unclear if he actually said that. Armstrong was known to be very straightforward in his commentary. 

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We Came in Peace For All Mankind.

lunar plaque
The lunar plaque left behind by the Apollo 11 astronauts. NASA

In an expression of humanity's higher moral hope, Neil Armstrong stated "Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon. July 1969 AD. We came in peace for all mankind."  He was reading aloud the inscription on a plaque attached to the Apollo 11 Eagle lunar module. That plaque remains on the surface of the Moon today. In the future, when people live and work on the Moon, it will be a sort of "museum" exhibit commemorating the first men to walk on the lunar surface. 

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I Put Up My Thumb and It Blotted out the Earth.

View of the half-Earth above the moon
View of the half-Earth above the lunar horizon. NASA

We can only imagine what it's like to stand on the Moon and look at the distant Earth. People become so accustomed to our view of the heavens, but to turn and see the Earth in all its blue glory is a sight only a few have been privileged to enjoy.  This idea came to a head when Neil Armstrong found that he could hold up his thumb and completely block the view of Earth. He often spoke of how lonely it felt, and also how beautiful our only home really is. In the near future, it's likely that people from around the globe will finally be able to live and work on the Moon, and send back their own images and thoughts about what it's like to see our home planet from the dusty lunar surface. 

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We're Going to the Moon Because It's in the Nature of the Human Being...

Apollo 11 Image
Apollo 11 Image. NASA

"I think we're going to the Moon because it's the human being to face challenges. We're required to do these things just as salmon swim upstream."

Neil Armstrong was a strong believer in the exploration of space and his mission experience was a tribute to his hard work and faith that the space program was something America was destined to pursue. When he made this statement he was affirming that going to space was just another step for humanity. 

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I was Elated, Ecstatic and Extremely surprised That We Were Successful.

Neil Armstrong Pictures - Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong looks over flight plans
Neil Armstrong Pictures - Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong looks over flight plans.

The complexity of traveling to the Moon is immense even by today's standards. Modern spacecraft with newer safety standards and generations of expertise behind them will be heading to the Moon within the next few years. But, back in the early days of the Space Age, everything was new and relatively untested.

Remember that the computing power available to the Apollo landing module was less than what we now have in our scientific calculator. The technology in our cell phones simply puts it to shame. In that context, it's still amazing that we were successful in putting people on the Moon. Neil Armstrong had at his disposal the best technology for the time, which to our eyes today looks rather old-fashioned. But, it was enough to get him to the Moon and back, a fact he never forgot. 

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It's a Brilliant Surface in that Sunlight.

Buzz Aldrin on the Moon during Apollo 11 mission. Image Credit: NASA

Part of the Apollo astronaut's training was to learn about the geology of the lunar surface and be able to communicate it back to Earth as they were exploring it. In that context then, Armstrong was giving a good science report from the field.

"It's a brilliant surface in that sunlight. The horizon seems quite close to you because the curvature is so much more pronounced than here on Earth. It's an interesting place to be. I recommend it." As much as he could explain a place very few people have ever been, Neil Armstrong tried to explain this amazing place the best he could. Other astronauts who walked on the Moon explained it in much the same way. Buzz Aldrin termed the Moon's surface "magnificent desolation". 

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Mystery Creates Wonder and Wonder is the Basis of Man's Desire to Understand.

Neil Armstrong Pictures - Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong In Simulator
Neil Armstrong training to go to the Moon.

"Humans have an inquisitive nature, and that manifests itself in our desire to take that next step, to seek out the next great adventure." Going to the Moon wasn't really a question in Neil Armstrong's mind, it was the next step in the evolution of our knowledge, of our understanding. For him — and for all of us — going there was necessary to explore the limits of our technology and set the stage for what mankind could achieve in the future.

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I Fully Expected what... We Would Have Achieved Substantially More...

Solar System Montage with Eight Planets
Apollo missions opened up exploration of the solar system.

"I fully expected that, by the end of the century, we would have achieved substantially more than we actually did." Neil Armstrong was commenting on his missions and the history of exploration since then. Apollo 11 was looked upon at the time to be a starting point. It proved that people could achieve what many considered impossible, and NASA set its sights on greatness.

Everyone fully expected that humans would soon be off to Mars. The colonization of the Moon was a near certainty, probably by the end of the century. Yet nearly five decades later, the Moon and Mars are still being robotically explored, and plans for human exploration of those worlds, the asteroids, are still being put in place. 

A Man of His Time

Neil Armstrong was a man of many talents and abilities. His achievements on the Moon set our sights firmly in space. Along with other astronauts, he faced dangers and supported the space effort. Future explorers will remember him and his words as they, too, face challenges in support of further human exploration in space.