NEW YORK ? Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, touched down in rainy Manhattan Sunday and urged the public to take a more active interest in the military conflicts facing the United States.
Armstrong, 79, spoke to a crowd of more than 1,000 people, including Cub Scouts and other young children, who gathered at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum here to welcome the famed Apollo 11 astronaut and other aerospace legends home from a tour of military bases in Europe and Southwest Asia.
?I hope that all of you, and all of those with whom you came, take an interest in the conflicts in which our nation is involved,? said Armstrong, who received a standing ovation from the crowd. ?Become informed about the importance and the reality of this major commitment of our society, so that you can feel like you personally know enough that you can have an opinion about it.?
Armstrong appeared alongside Air Force Gen. (ret.) Steve Richie, the last USAF pilot ace, and Bob Gilliland, who served as the chief test pilot for the development of the SR-71 Blackbird supersonic spy plane. The three men visited military bases and installations across Europe and Southwest Asia as part of the ?Legends of Aerospace? tour.
?There?s a big war going on out there and it?s hard to understand what it?s like sitting at home and watching it on the news,? said Armstrong, who served as a U.S. Navy aviator from 1949 to 1952 and flew 78 combat missions during the Korean War.
Former NASA astronauts Gene Cernan ? the last man to walk on the moon during the final Apollo 17 flight ? and Jim Lovell, who commanded the Apollo 13 mission that nearly ended in disaster, also participated in the Legends of Aerospace tour. But they were unable to attend Sunday?s welcome ceremony, which was delayed one day due to bad weather in New York.
More than 2,000 people braved torrents of rain Saturday to see Armstrong, Lovell, Cernan and the others speak at the Intreprid. But the plane carrying the speakers was diverted to Boston due to the poor weather. Most of the speakers took a train to New York City, instead.
Armstrong did not reflect on his role as the commander of NASA?s Apollo 11 flight ? the first manned moon landing - which he commanded in July 1969. On that mission, Armstrong and Lunar Module pilot Buzz Aldrin landed their Eagle lander at what they later named Tranquility Base while crewmate Michael Collins orbited overhead in the Columbia command module.
Armstrong was the first to set foot on the moon, a moment that he dubbed ?one giant leap for mankind.? He and Aldrin spent 3 1/2 hours walking on the moon during the Apollo 11 moon shot.
The first moonwalker also did not comment on NASA?s recent shift in plans to cancel its Constellation program in charge of building new spaceships and rockets to replace the aging space shuttle fleet.
NASA?s three space shuttles are due to be retired later this year after four final missions. President Barack Obama ordered NASA to scrap the program as part of his 2011 budget proposal, and directed the space agency to support the development of commercial spacecraft to carry astronauts instead.
But Armstrong kept his comments focused on the U.S. troops overseas.
?Americans can be very, very proud of the young men and women that are out there defending freedom,? Armstrong said.
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- SPACE.com Special Report: The Moon ? Then, Now, Next