With his combination of skills, technical knowledge and humility, Neil Armstrong was the model of how an astronaut should behave, said former astronaut and Salina native Steve Hawley.

With his combination of skills, technical knowledge and humility, Neil Armstrong was the model of how an astronaut should behave, said former astronaut and Salina native Steve Hawley.

"He knew that you could do amazing things if you dream big and are willing to try to do what it takes to achieve it," Hawley said.

Armstrong, who died Saturday at age 82 following complications from cardiovascular procedures, certainly achieved amazing things. As the first man to set foot on the moon July 20, 1969, Armstrong inspired an entire generation of astronauts and scientists who would follow in his footsteps.

Hawley, 61, was one of those astronauts. Although Armstrong had left NASA and the space program before Hawley joined NASA, Hawley said he will never forget watching Armstrong make that first "small step for man" on the moon's surface.

"I remember watching him land at my folks' house in Salina," said Hawley, who graduated from Salina Central High School just a couple of months before Armstrong's moon landing. "(Armstrong) and all those guys were my heroes," he said.

"I never thought there would be a role for me at NASA because they were test pilots and I wanted to be a scientist," Hawley said.

Hawley ended up flying on five U.S. Space Shuttle flights. He now is director of engineering physics at the University of Kansas.

Hawley said he met Armstrong a couple of times. The first time was when he worked with Armstrong on the Rogers Commission in 1986, which investigated the crash of the space shuttle Challenger. He also met him during the 1991 dedication of the Astronaut Memorial at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

"He was a private man, but to me he was always very gracious," Hawley said.

If anything summed up the character of Neil Armstrong, Hawley said, it was a story he'd heard about the time Armstrong was training on a lunar landing training vehicle, "which looked like a big jet engine with a lawn chair on top."

"It was common to lose control of that thing, so one day, he lost control and had to eject," Hawley said. "Then, he went back to his office and continued working. It was just part of the job to him."

Hawley doesn't know if the U.S. would have the national will now to undertake space and moon missions as they did in the past.

"You have to admire the people like Neil who took the risk," he said.

Although Salinan Jeffrey Kasoff has never been in space and didn't know Armstrong, he will never forget watching Armstrong's moon landing on an old black-and-white television at age 15.

"It was really a remarkable feat," said Kasoff, secretary of the Salina Astronomy Club. "Astronauts were celebrities then. They really had charisma and laid the groundwork for everything that's come since."

Unlike many space exploration fans, Kasoff doesn't mind that robot units now are substituting for human exploration, such as on Mars.

"I'm a mechanical engineer by trade, so I don't need a hero," he said. "The future more likely will be robotic."