Neil Armstrong changed the world by becoming the first man in history to successfully pilot a spacecraft to land safely on the lunar surface and then walk on the moon. This not only was a high point in space exploration but also put the United States ahead of the Soviet Union in the space race during the Cold War.
The Cold War had become intense by the mid-1950s as tensions rose between the United States and the Soviet Union in the aftermath of World War II. The space race became a priority for both nations after the Soviets launched the artificial satellite Sputnik into a successful orbit in 1957. In 1958, the Americans launched their own satellite, Explorer I, and President Dwight Eisenhower created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA. In 1959, the Soviets landed an unmanned probe on the moon, and in 1961, a Soviet astronaut became the first person to orbit the Earth. Though up to that point the Americans had lagged behind in space pioneer efforts, in 1962, President John F. Kennedy announced that the United States would land a man on the moon within eight years.
Neil Armstrong joined the astronaut program in 1962. In 1966, he served as command pilot for Gemini VIII, which was the first space mission on which two vehicles docked while in orbit. In 1969, he became the commander of the Apollo 11 crew, whose mission was to land on the moon. When he first set foot on the moon's surface, he said the famous words, "That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind."