Neil Armstrong Quotes

Thoughts From the First Man to Step on the Moon

Neil Armstrong training for the Apollo 11 mission
Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

Astronaut Neil Armstrong (1930–2012) is widely regarded as an American hero. His bravery and skill earned him the honor of being the first human to set foot on the moon in 1969. For the remainder of his life, he was sought after for his views on the human condition, technology, space exploration, and more.

Armstrong was never interested in being too much in the public eye after he made history with NASA, although he was a spokesman for several American companies. He also served on corporate boards and worked on the commission that investigated the 1986 space shuttle Challenger disaster, among other things. Today, his words still resonate years after his death.

'That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind'

Armstrong's most famous quote doesn't quite make sense since "man" and "mankind" have the same meaning. He meant to say "... one small step for a man..." referring to his first footstep on the moon having deep implications for all people. The astronaut hoped that the annals of history would remember his words for what he meant to say during Apollo 11's lunar landing. Upon listening to the tape, he noted there wasn't much time for him to say all the words he'd planned.

'Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed'

On the night in 1969 when the spacecraft piloted by Armstrong settled down onto the surface of the moon, millions of people around the world were listening via radio or watching on TV. The landing sequence was risky, and as each milestone was reached, Armstrong or colleague Buzz Aldrin would announce it. When they finally landed, Armstrong let the world know that they'd made it.

The 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 a smooth patch of lunar ground, he landed his craft.

'I believe that every human has a finite number of heartbeats'

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's unclear whether he actually said that. Armstrong was known to be very straightforward in his commentary. 

'We came in peace for all mankind'

In an expression of humanity's higher moral hope, 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 lunar module, which remains on the surface of the Moon. 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.

'I put up my thumb and it blotted out the Earth'

We can only imagine what it's like to stand on the moon and look at the distant Earth. People become 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 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 how beautiful our home is. In the future, it's likely that people from around the globe will be able to live and work on the moon, sending back their own images and thoughts about what it's like to see our home planet from the dusty lunar surface. 

'We're going to the moon because it's in the nature of the human being'

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

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.

'I was elated, ecstatic, and extremely surprised that we were successful'

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 soon be heading back to the moon. But 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's in today's scientific calculators. The technology in cell phones puts it to shame. In that context, it's amazing that the moon landings were a success. Armstrong had at his disposal the best technology of the time, which to our eyes looks rather old-fashioned. But it was enough to get him to the moon and back, a fact he never forgot.

'It's a brilliant surface in that sunlight'

Part of Apollo astronauts' 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, 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." Armstrong tried to explain this amazing place that very few people have ever visited the best way he could. Other astronauts who walked on the moon explained it in much the same way. Aldrin termed the moon's surface "magnificent desolation."

'Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man's desire to understand'

"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 Armstrong's mind; it was simply the next step in the evolution of our knowledge. 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.

'I fully expected that...we would have achieved substantially more'

"I fully expected that, by the end of the century, we would have achieved substantially more than we actually did." Armstrong was commenting on his missions and the history of exploration since then. Apollo 11 was looked upon at the time as 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. Decades later, however, the moon and Mars are still being robotically explored, and plans for human exploration of those worlds are still being worked out.