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Neil Armstrong's ashes buried at sea

Bill Ingalls / NASA

U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Paul Nagy and Carol Armstrong, wife of Neil Armstrong, commit the cremated remains of the Apollo 11 astronaut to sea during a service held onboard the USS Philippine Sea today in the Atlantic Ocean.

The cremated remains of Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon, were committed to the Atlantic Ocean today, in accordance with the Navy flier's final wish.

Armstrong, who took that historic "one small step" onto the lunar surface in July 1969, died at the age of 82 on Aug. 25, after suffering complications from heart surgery. An estimated 1,500 people — including fellow space icons, political VIPs, his family and admirers — turned out for a national memorial service Thursday at the Washington National Cathedral in the nation's capital.


The setting for today's burial-at-sea ceremony on the Navy missile cruiser Philippine Sea, operating out of its Florida homeport, was much more intimate. Armstrong's widow, Carol, played a key role in the proceedings: Assisted by Navy Lt. Cmdr. Paul Nagy, she passed the remains overboard, then accepted the folded-up U.S. flag from from the ship's commanding officer, Capt. Steve Shinego.

The service followed the Navy's time-honored tradition, featuring remarks by Navy chaplain Donald Troast, three volleys fired in tribute from a firing squad, and the playing of "Taps." Family members and a smattering of close friends attended the ceremony alongside white-uniformed Navy personnel. The ship's flag flew at half-mast. In fact, U.S. flags around the world were flying at half-staff today in Armstrong's honor.

Armstrong was not only a veteran of NASA's Gemini 8 mission in 1966 and the Apollo 11 moonshot in 1969, which came at the climax of the U.S.-Soviet space race. Long before he became an astronaut, Armstrong was a veteran of 78 combat missions as a Navy fighter pilot during the Korean War. He could have had a memorial in a place of honor at Arlington National Cemetery, but instead chose a Navy burial at sea. That's totally consistent with Armstrong's image as a "reluctant American hero" who had no desire for celebrity.

The family did not provide details about today's service, but Navy spokesman Ed Zeigler said the procedure typically calls for the urn and its contents to be deposited into the ocean. Nowadays, many of the urns used for this purpose are biodegradable, meaning that they dissolve soon after being placed in the water.

Here are some of NASA photographer Bill Ingalls' pictures from the ceremony, posted to the agency headquarters' Flickr gallery:

Bill Ingalls / NASA

Family members of the late Neil Armstrong and members of the U.S. Navy stand during the burial-at-sea service on Friday.

Bill Ingalls / NASA

Members of the U.S. Navy ceremonial guard hold an American flag over the cremated remains of Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong during Friday's service.

Bill Ingalls / NASA

U.S. Navy Capt. Steve Shinego, commanding officer of the USS Philippine Sea, presents the U.S. flag to Carol Armstrong following the burial-at-sea service on Friday. One of Neil Armstrong's sons, Rick, is sitting next to Carol, with other family members nearby. Among the attendees were the astronaut's other son, Mark; and his brother and sister, Dean Armstrong and June Hoffman.

More about Neil Armstrong:


Alan Boyle is NBCNews.com's science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter and adding the Cosmic Log page to your Google+ presence. To keep up with Cosmic Log as well as NBCNews.com's other stories about science and space, sign up for the Tech & Science newsletter, delivered to your email in-box every weekday. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.