LOS ANGELES (CBS) — He may have been famous for walking on the moon, but the death of astronaut Neil Armstrong Saturday hit close to home in Southern California.

Captain of the July 1969 Apollo 13 space mission in which Armstrong and fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin took the first steps on the moon, the reclusive Armstrong died at age 82 from complications of heart bypass surgery, his family said.

“He was Mr. Space, the one who really opened that frontier,” Charles Elachi, director of the Pasadena-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory told the Los Angeles Times today. “I would imagine he would have been excited that we were going beyond the moon and possibly opening a future for human missions to Mars.”

Elachi said watching the lunar landing while he was a student at Caltech in the late 1960s helped inspire him to seek a career in science and math, the Times reported.

“In those days, just going into orbit was a major heat,” Elachi was quoted as saying. “And to be the first person to land on the moon, as he and Buzz Aldrin did — you had to respect that kind of boldness and courage.”

The Hollywood Historic Trust placed flowers this afternoon at Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street, where markers honoring the three Apollo 13 astronauts’ accomplishment are set in concrete on all four corners of the world-famous intersection.

IMAGES: Remembering Neil Armstrong

“When Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon, hundreds of millions of TV viewers watched,” Hollywood Historic Trust spokeswoman Ana Martinez said. “During that era, this event was the single most important live TV broadcast ever.”

At 9 p.m. tonight, the forecourt lights at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard will be dimmed for a minute in a tribute to Armstrong.

“This honor is usually reserved for major Hollywood figures, but Neil Armstrong is unique as an American and a superhero,” the theatre’s Alwyn Hight-Kushner said. “And so it is with deep respect on behalf of the Hollywood community that we bestow this accolade on the first man to walk on the moon.”

(©2012 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)


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