With the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing on July 20, 1969, and the release of the incredible documentary Apollo 11, there’s never been a better time to remember the “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” that astronaut Neil Armstrong made onto the surface of the moon.
But what many people don’t know is that this American hero died in tragic circumstances at the age of 82 due to more than just natural causes.
After Neil Armstrong’s death in 2012, a bitter medical dispute led to a secret $6 million settlement for the astronaut’s family.
After studying engineering at Purdue University, Armstrong enlisted with the U.S. Naval Reserve and flew a reconnaissance plane in over 78 missions during the Korean War (1950–1953), winning two gold stars and the Korean Service Medal for his bravery.
In 1955, Armstrong joined NASA’s precursor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, which developed the technologies that helped American aircraft break the speed of sound. He flew a number of different test planes before joining NASA’s Gemini program in 1962.
After years faithfully serving the agency, Armstrong was selected as commander for the Apollo 11 mission, along with crew members Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins.
After landing on the moon, Armstrong decided to retire as an astronaut, becoming an administrator for NASA until 1971 and then moving to the University of Cincinnati as a professor of Engineering. Armstrong would go on to engage in private business and other activities, including an expedition to the North Pole in 1985.
But he always kept a low profile. As fellow astronaut John Glenn said upon Armstrong’s death in 2012, per The Telegraph, “[Neil] didn’t feel that he should be out huckstering himself. He was a humble person, and that’s the way he remained after his lunar flight, as well as before.”
His family made a similarly touching tribute to the great explorer. “For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.”
But while the public was gushing with praise for Armstrong, the astronaut’s bereaved sons Rick Armstrong and Mark Armstrong were undergoing a terrible ordeal.
Armstrong passed away after receiving heart bypass surgery at Mercy Health-Fairfield Hospital in Cincinnati in 2012. After receiving the surgery, he looked to be making a great recovery, but the trouble started when wires for a temporary pacemaker were taken out, and Armstrong suffered from internal bleeding.
This caused a whole host of other problems, and Armstrong passed away not long after. Information soon began to emerge that the family was unhappy with the care he had received, including coming to the conclusion that Armstrong shouldn’t have been operated on in the first place.
As a medical expert at the hospital agreed with the family’s assessment, the hospital came under increasing pressure to admit wrongdoing either publicly or by a settlement. The hospital eventually agreed to a 6 million dollar settlement with the proviso that the details be kept private. The Armstrongs’ lawyer wrote, per the New York Times, that “no institution wants to be remotely associated with the death of one of America’s greatest heroes.”
Mark Armstrong described "First Man," starring Ryan Gosling as his father, as a film that captured the most true-to-life depiction of his father's journey.
Though the settlement has been kept secret as the Armstrongs would lose the money they were given by the hospital, biographer James Hensen, who wrote The First Man, believes that the information needs to come to light. “His life story really isn’t complete until it is known, and even more importantly, the full story of his death may prevent similar tragedies in the future.”
Whether the full story will ever come out is unclear, but regardless of his death, Armstrong was a true American hero, someone who sacrificed his own ambitions in service of his country. When he did achieve stardom, he remained the humble and simple engineer he had always been, fascinated by flight and discovery.