Mr. Armstrong died following complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures, his family said Saturday. It didn't say where or when he died.
Mr. Armstrong commanded the Apollo 11 spacecraft that landed on the moon July 20, 1969, capping the most daring of the 20th century's scientific expeditions. His first words after setting foot on the surface are etched in history books and in the memories of those who heard them in a live broadcast.
"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," Mr. Armstrong said.
Mr. Armstrong's family described him as "a reluctant American hero who always believed he was just doing his job." The statement mentioned his success after the lunar walk "in business and academia" and as a "community leader in Cincinnati."
The former astronaut was renowned for shunning the limelight and his reluctance to talk to reporters. "As much as Neil cherished his privacy, he always appreciated the expressions of good will from people around the world and from all walks of life," the family said.
In his first few moments on the moon, during the climax of a heated space race with the then-Soviet Union, Mr. Armstrong stopped in what he called "a tender moment" and left a patch to commemorate NASA astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts who had died in action.
"It was special and memorable, but it was only instantaneous because there was work to do," Mr. Armstrong told an Australian television interviewer this year.
Mr. Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin spent nearly three hours walking on the lunar surface, collecting samples, conducting experiments and taking photographs.
"The sights were simply magnificent, beyond any visual experience that I had ever been exposed to," Mr. Armstrong once said.
The moonwalk marked America's victory in the Cold War space race that began Oct. 4, 1957, with the launch of the Soviet Union's Sputnik 1, a satellite that sent shock waves around the world.
Although he had been a Navy fighter pilot, a test pilot for NASA's forerunner and an astronaut, Mr. Armstrong never allowed himself to be caught up in the celebrity and glamour of the space program.
"I am, and ever will be, a white socks, pocket protector, nerdy engineer," he said in February 2000 in one of his rare public appearances. "And I take a substantial amount of pride in the accomplishments of my profession."
Mr. Armstrong uncharacteristically broke his silence in recent years by joining with other former astronauts to publicly criticize President Barack Obama's drive to outsource part of NASA's responsibilities to privately owned and operated rockets and spacecraft. Opponents of those privatization plans hoped to use Mr. Armstrong's reservations to block the White House initiatives, but the NASA icon refused to be drawn into an extended debate over the issues. Congress eventually went along with many of the administration's requests.
Mr. Armstrong's modesty and self-effacing manner never faded.
When he appeared in Dayton, Ohio, in 2003 to help celebrate the 100th anniversary of powered flight, he bounded onto a stage before 10,000 people. But he spoke for only a few seconds, didn't mention the moon and quickly ducked out of the spotlight.
He later joined former astronaut and Sen. John Glenn to lay wreaths on the graves of airplane inventors Wilbur and Orville Wright. Sen. Glenn introduced Mr. Armstrong and noted it was 34 years to the day that Mr. Armstrong had walked on the moon.
"Thank you, John. Thirty-four years?" Mr. Armstrong said as if he hadn't given it a thought.
At another joint appearance, the two embraced and Sen. Glenn said, "To this day, he's the one person on Earth, I'm truly, truly envious of."
Mr. Armstrong's moonwalk capped a series of accomplishments that included piloting the X-15 rocket plane and making the first space docking during the Gemini 8 mission, which included a successful emergency splashdown.
In the years afterward, Mr. Armstrong retreated to the quiet of the classroom and his Ohio farm. Mr. Aldrin said in his book "Men from Earth" that Mr. Armstrong was one of the quietest, most private men he had ever met.
In the Australian interview, Mr. Armstrong acknowledged that "now and then I miss the excitement about being in the cockpit of an airplane and doing new things."
At the time of the flight's 40th anniversary, Mr. Armstrong again was low-key, telling a gathering that the space race was "the ultimate peaceful competition:
Mr. Glenn, who went through jungle training in Panama with Mr. Armstrong as part of the astronaut program, described him as "exceptionally brilliant" with technical matters but "rather retiring, doesn't like to be thrust into the limelight much."
Derek Elliott, curator of the Smithsonian Institution's U.S. Air and Space Museum from 1982 to 1992, said the moonwalk probably marked the high point of space exploration.
The manned lunar landing re-established U.S. pre-eminence in science and technology, Mr. Elliott said.
"The fact that we were able to see it and be a part of it means that we are in our own way witnesses to history," he said.
The 1969 landing met an audacious deadline that President John F. Kennedy had set in May 1961, shortly after Alan Shepard became the first American in space with a 15-minute suborbital flight. Soviet cosmonaut Yuri A. Gagarin had orbited the Earth and beaten the U.S. into space the previous month.
"I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth," Mr. Kennedy had said. "No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important to the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish."
The end-of-decade goal was met with more than five months to spare. "Houston: Tranquility Base here," Mr. Armstrong radioed after the spacecraft settled onto the moon. "The Eagle has landed."
The third astronaut on the mission, Michael Collins, circled the moon in the mother ship Columbia while Mr. Armstrong and Mr. Aldrin went to the moon's surface.
In all, 12 American astronauts walked on the moon between 1969 and the last moon mission in 1972.
For Americans, reaching the moon provided uplift and respite from the Vietnam War. The landing occurred as organizers were preparing for Woodstock, the legendary rock festival on a farm in New York.
Mr. Armstrong was born Aug. 5, 1930, on a farm in Ohio. He took his first airplane ride at age 6 and developed a fascination with aviation that prompted him to build model airplanes and conduct experiments in a homemade wind tunnel.
As a boy, he worked at a pharmacy and took flying lessons. He was licensed to fly at 16, before he got his driver's license.
Mr. Armstrong enrolled in Purdue University to study aeronautical engineering but was called to duty with the U.S. Navy in 1949 and flew 78 combat missions in Korea. After the war, Mr. Armstrong finished his degree from Purdue and later earned a master's degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Southern California. He became .
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