Forty-five years ago today, two American astronauts -- Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong -- landed on the moon's Sea of Tranquility, and Neil Armstrong planted the first footprint on the surface of the moon. As he made those first steps, Armstrong uttered that simple phrase we still remember today: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
Today, President Obama joined all Americans honoring that giant leap forward, by inviting Neil Armstrong's wife, Carol, Michael Collins, the astronaut who piloted the spacecraft that orbited the moon, and Buzz Aldrin, to the White House. Armstrong passed away in 2012.
In the President's statement on today's meeting, he honored the bravery and leadership that these heroes displayed, and acknowledged the influence that their mission has had on mankind:
The United States of America is stronger today thanks to the vision of President Kennedy, who set us on a course for the moon, the courage of Neil, Buzz, and Michael, who made the journey, and the spirit of service of all who’ve worked not only on the Apollo program, but who’ve dared to push the very boundaries of space and scientific discovery for all humankind.
As we commemorate that day, we take a look back at the Apollo 11 mission and the extraordinary influence of the U.S. space program.
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy challenged the United States to take a lead in space exploration and declared that the nation would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. On September 12, 1962, President Kennedy delivered a speech at Rice University, where he reiterated that commitment:
We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.
And then, on July 20, 1969, this nation fulfilled President Kennedy's goal. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped foot on the surface of the moon.
While they were on the moon, President Nixon called to congratulate astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin, which was deemed the longest-distance telephone call ever. Undoubtedly a first, President Nixon's daily guidance listed the call as an "interplanetary conversation."
Three days later, having spent 8 days in space and almost 22 hours on the moon, the Apollo 11 astronauts splashed down in the Pacific Ocean and were picked up by the USS Hornet. President Nixon was aboard the Hornet to congratulate the men and personally welcome them back to Earth.
Today, NASA's unwavering dedication to innovation and exploration will ensure that the United States remains the world's leader in scientific discovery and space exploration for decades to come.
Some of NASA's more ambitious plans in the coming years include: designing a new heavy-lift rocket that will provide new capabilities for human exploration beyond Earth's orbit; capturing and relocating an asteroid in a stable orbit around the moon; and landing people on the surface of Mars in the 2030s.
As NASA has turned the page on a new era of space travel, the President has called for additional private sector partnerships to demonstrate reliable and cost-effective space transportation capabilities. This partnership will further revolutionize our ability to explore beyond our own planet.
NASA's Space Launch System will usher in a new era of space exploration that will enable humans to travel farther into space than they ever have before.
Later this year, NASA's Orion spacecraft will undergo its first test flight. This is a big moment for NASA, as this spacecraft will enable humans to travel farther than they've traveled in 40 years and will be the safest vehicle ever built.
The Asteroid Redirect Mission is part of a bold plan to capture and redirect an asteroid into an orbit around the moon. Astronauts will explore the asteroid in the 2020s and return to Earth with samples. This ambitious mission will help NASA advance new technologies and further our understanding of spaceflight, in preparation for a mission to Mars in the 2030s.
These mission plans, and others, will continue to push NASA towards the long-term goal of putting humans on Mars in the 2030s.