Emotion filled astronaut Buzz Aldrin on Saturday as he stood on the launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center — the exact same spot where his historic space mission blasted off 50 years ago.
“Nostalgia came over me today,” Aldrin tweeted with a photo of himself standing on the concrete square alongside Vice President Mike Pence and Neil Armstrong’s son, Rick. “I am happy to stand here today to say: Mission Completed.”
After the launchpad visit, Pence repeated the US’s plans to return to the moon by 2024 in a speech inside the Cape Canaveral facility.
“I am proud to report at the direction of the President of the United States of America, America will return to the moon within the next five years, and the next man and the first woman on the moon will be American astronauts,” he said at the “One Giant Leap” celebration marking the 50th anniversary of humankind’s first steps on the moon.
Pence noted the Trump administration is “working with private companies around this country” on space exploration and “has already signed into law the largest NASA budget ever.
“After more than 45 years where one administration after another chose to limit America’s space program to lower-Earth orbit, President Donald Trump has changed all that,” Pence said.
Flanked by Aldrin, Pence announced NASA has completed the Orion spacecraft that it hopes to send to Mars in the coming years.
Astronauts will spend “weeks and months, not days and hours on the lunar surface,” Pence said of NASA’s plans. “We will extract water from ice in the permanent shadowed craters of the South Pole.”
Pence recalled the moment in 1969 when the moon landing left even the generation’s most revered newsman speechless.
“Walter Cronkite could only shake his head and utter two words, ‘Oh boy,’” Pence said of the moment US television screens were lit up with a grainy image of Armstrong descending the ladder of the Apollo 11 and onto the moon’s surface.
“The nation held its breath as through the crackling broadcast we listened to, we heard Neil Armstrong use those immortal words: ‘That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.’”
Pence then took a moment to honor Aldrin and asked him to stand for the crowd. Applause erupted as the 89-year-old saluted the audience.
The vice-president also commemorated Apollo 11’s Michael Collins, 88, who circled the moon alone in a command module while Armstrong and Aldrin landed “The Eagle” — with just 17 seconds of fuel left in the tank.
“And yet how calm they were,” Pence said.
NASA had other celebrations going on Saturday: at Johnson Space Center in Houston, home to Mission Control; the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC; and other locales. With Wires
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