PARIS — The European Space Agency's director general added his voice Sunday to tributes pouring in for Neil Armstrong, saying the US astronaut's first step on the Moon 43 years ago helped unite people on Earth.
"Until 21 July 1969 (the day after Armstrong's historic moonwalk), Neil Armstrong was an American and the Moonlandings were American. But after this day, Neil Armstrong belonged to humanity," Jean-Jacques Dordain said in a statement in Paris.
"After this day, the competition between the two great space superpowers in human spaceflight was replaced by cooperation, and today Americans and Russians work together in space with their Japanese, Canadian and European colleagues. And tomorrow I hope ... also with other space ambassadors."
Dordain said the legendary astronaut's passing Saturday at the age of 82 from complications following heart surgery was a sad day for the entire world.
And he paid tribute to Armstrong as someone who "has gone beyond being a hero", remaining humble and always ready to pass on his experience.
"He has inspired successive generations all around the world," said Dordain.
"I follow the wish of the family of Neil Armstrong to give a wink to the Moon, where his steps are permanently imprinted."
The grainy black-and-white broadcast of Armstrong's moon walk was seen by some 500 million people, and his words: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" have become iconic.
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