Neil Armstrong Cause of Death: How Did the Astronaut Die?

neil armstrong cause of death

Getty Learn about Neil Armstrong's cause of death. The photo on the left shows Armstrong's burial at sea.

With the anniversary of the moon landing, many moviegoers are wondering what happened to astronaut Neil Armstrong after his famous moon walk.

In real life, Neil Armstrong went on to lead a fairly private life, eschewing overtures to run for political office (unlike, say, fellow astronaut John Glenn.) He didn’t give public appearances much. “I am, and ever will be, a white socks, pocket protector, nerdy engineer,” he said in 2000 in a rare one. “…Science is about what is, and engineering is about what can be.”

Those wondering where Armstrong is today will be disappointed to learn that the astronaut died in 2012. What was his cause of death? How did Neil Armstrong die?

July 20, 2019 is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the moon. According to Fox News, “just 10 more NASA astronauts would follow in their footsteps by walking on the lunar surface. The last human to set foot on the Moon was Apollo 17 astronaut Eugene Cernan on Dec. 14, 1972.”

Here’s what you need to know:


Neil Armstrong Died After Complications From Heart Surgery

neil armstrong

GettyAstronaut Neil Armstrong, commander of Apollo 11.

Neil Armstrong died after heart surgery, but he seemed to be recovering from it at first.

According to his obituary, Neil Armstrong’s family revealed that “Armstrong died following complications resulting from cardiovascular procedure.” His date of death was August 25, 2012. He was 82-years-old when he passed away.

Neil Armstrong was buried at sea in the Atlantic Ocean.

neil armstrong burial at sea

In this handout from NASA, U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Paul Nagy, USS Philippine Sea, and Carol Armstrong, wife of Neil Armstrong, commit the remains of Neil Armstrong to sea during a burial at sea service held onboard the USS Philippine Sea September 14, 2012 in the Atlantic Ocean.

According to CNN, his family released the following statement: “We are heartbroken to share the news that Neil Armstrong has passed away following complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures. While we mourn the loss of a very good man, we also celebrate his remarkable life and hope that it serves as an example to young people around the world to work hard to make their dreams come true, to be willing to explore and push the limits, and to selflessly serve a cause greater than themselves.”

Armstrong settled into a quiet life in Lebanon, Ohio. An Associated Press obituary for Armstrong described how he “enjoyed golfing with friends, was active in the local YMCA and frequently ate lunch at the same restaurant in Lebanon.”

neil armstrong funeral

(Front row L-R) Christin Korp, Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, Annie Glenn, astronaut and former U.S. Senator John Glenn (D-OH) and music artist Diana Krall attend the memorial service for astronaut Neil Armstrong at the National Cathedral September 13, 2012 in Washington, DC.

According to the obituary in The New York Times, the man known for the iconic line, “The Eagle has landed,” had recently undergone heart bypass surgery and seemed to be recovering. His death surprised those close to him, The Times reported, and it was not revealed where he had died.

Many news stories have reported on the astronaut’s penchant for privacy in later years. A national celebrity, he did not act like one, rarely giving interviews and staying out of the limelight. His first wife Janet once said, in his biography, “He feels guilty that he got all the acclaim for an effort of tens of thousands of people.”

neil armstrong

GettyAstronaut Neil Armstrong smiles inside the Lunar Module July 20, 1969.

In later years, according to The Times, Armstrong settled into life as an Ohio professor of aeronautical engineering in Cincinnati and lived on a farm. The Times reported that he was also a “director for several corporations.”

He did disagree publicly when Barack Obama canceled the plan to send astronauts back to the moon in favor of private companies. Armstrong said to the U.S. House that NASA “must find ways of restoring hope and confidence to a confused and disconsolate work force,” The Times noted. However, such wading into contentious public issues was unusual for him.


Armstrong & His Wife Janet Divorced

janet armstrong

GettyNeil and Janet Armstrong

The movie First Man focuses as much on Neil Armstrong’s family dynamics as it does on his moon walking. In particular, the movie shows his relationship with his wife, Janet, and the couple’s two sons, Rick and Mark. It also shows the couple’s grief over the untimely death of their toddler Karen from a brain tumor. All of this really happened.

Rick and Mark Armstrong, who both work in the software field today, collaborated on the movie, making sure the filmmakers got their parents’ personalities right. They believe the movie paid proper homage to the Armstrongs.

neil armstrong sons

GettyRick Armstrong (l) and Mark Armstrong (r) are the sons of astronaut Neil Armstrong.

Janet Armstrong died in 2018.

Janet, called Jan, married Neil Armstrong in 1956. They lived in the San Gabriel Mountains near Lancaster, California at first. “From their home in Juniper Hills, Jan could see her husband flying experimental aircraft at Edwards Air Force Base in the distance,” her obituary says. Janet Armstrong’s cause of death was lung cancer.

neil armstrong son

Getty Neil Armstrong’s second wife, Carol Armstrong (2nd-R), and son, Rick Armstrong, attend a memorial service for astronaut Neil Armstrong at the National Cathedral September 13, 2012 in Washington, DC.

The movie shows a subtle fraying of the couple’s relationship as the emotionally withdrawn Neil throws himself deeper into risky work assignments to deal with the trauma of Karen’s loss. In real life, Janet and Neil Armstrong divorced after 38 years of marriage. Five years later, he married again, to Carol Knight, a woman 15 years his junior. He was still married to Carol at the time of his death.

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