This past weekend, Neil Armstrong passed away. Like firefighters and saints, NASA astronauts are some of the most uncontroversially awesome people to walk the Earth—or any cosmic body, for that matter—and his passing is felt by all. But heroes are heroic for different reasons to different people, and now that he’s gone, at age 82, we can look back at the many diverse triumphs of Armstrong’s life.
Here are some highlights:
First Man to Walk on Moon: Since the dawn of the human timeline, the homo sapiens species has gazed at the moon, pondered what it was, and dreamt of visiting that strange silver sphere. Armstrong was the first man to do it. He stepped out of a rover, jumped into low-gravity lunar dust, and left a footprint that humanity would admire forever after.
His Quote: “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” One of the greatest quotes in history, and the best possible thing he could have said at that moment. That guy sure knew how to make an entrance.
Cold War Heroics: Whatever you might think about the Cold War, this fearless test pilot and aerospace engineer managed to win a major victory against the Soviet Union, and no bullets or ICBMs were involved. Instead of terrestrial battles between superpowers, Armstrong took a peaceful promenade through a low-gravity landscape. It was his knowledge of physics and his courage to face the unknown that won Armstrong a Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Pride of Ohio: Every Ohioan license plate reads “Birthplace of Aviation,” partly because young Neil was born in Wapakoneta. (Meanwhile, John Glenn was born in Cambridge, Ohio, and Orville Wright was born in Dayton). There may be a major rivalry between Ohio and North Carolina (“First in Flight”), but for delivering a sheer number of super-pilots, Ohio takes the cake.
University of Cincinnati Faculty: It’s hardly an Ivy League, so can you imagine being an aerospace engineering student and finding out that ol’ Professor Armstrong is, like, one of the most famous astronauts of all time? He retired in 1979 after eight years teaching, but those must have been some stoked alumni.
Boy Scout Leader: The Boy Scouts have turned out a zillion amazing men, but the first lunar walker was one of them.
Private Citizen: Armstrong didn’t embrace celebrity. He didn’t appear in Transformers 3, he didn’t make a cameo on 30 Rock, and he rarely even signed autographs. He lived his life simply and humbly.
Engineer’s Engineer: Engineers are famously straightforward people, and in keeping with his tightly worded eloquence, Armstrong was a man who loved machines and scientific curiosity. He wasn’t one of those flamboyant, Top Gun-style pilots who loved to “push the envelope” (a term that was inspired by those adrenaline-obsessed early astronauts). Armstrong didn’t even authorize a serious biography until 2005, despite countless offers. The man simply liked to do a good job.
Nerd Icon: He was just a plain-looking guy from the Midwest. In the year that most people hoped to go surfing in California and land tickets to a Zeppelin concert, Armstrong made science fiction a reality. And that’s a giant leap that we nerds, in particular, can appreciate.
What was your favorite quality about Neil Armstrong?