The man who made one giant leap for mankind takes one small step for himself Thursday: Neil Armstrong is turning 80.

Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969, before the eyes of hundreds of millions of awe-struck television viewers worldwide.

After stepping from the ladder of his lunar lander, he spoke the words that would echo through American heads for decades: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

An estimated 500 million people watched the grainy black and white broadcast that showed Armstrong, clad in a white space suit, climb down the lunar lander's ladder onto the moon's desolate surface, where he placed mankind's first footprint on an extraterrestrial world and gained instant hero status.

As commander of the Apollo 11 mission, it was also Armstrong who had notified mission control that the module had made a successful arrival, noted AFP: "Houston, Tranquility base here. The Eagle has landed."

Born in Wapakoneta, Ohio on August 5, 1930, Armstrong had an early fascination with aircraft and worked at a nearby airport as a teenager. He took flying lessons at the age of 15 and received his pilot's license on his 16th birthday.

A Navy aviator, he flew 78 missions in the Korean War. He studied aeronautical engineering at Purdue University in Indiana, and later earned a Master of Science degree in aerospace engineering at the University of Southern California.

In 1955, he became a test pilot at the High-Speed Flight Station at Edwards Air Force Base in California, where he flew about 50 different types of aircraft.

Seven years later, Armstrong was selected by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to train as an astronaut in Houston, Texas.

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