White House Rendezvous With Apollo 11 Crew

White House Rendezvous With Apollo 11 Crew
President George W. Bush welcomes Apollo 11 Astronauts Michael Collins, left, Neil Armstrong, center, and Buzz Aldrin to the Oval Office on July 21, 2004. The astronauts visited the White House to mark the 35th anniversary of the successful Apollo 11 mission of landing on the moon, walking along its surface and safely returning home. Photo: White House/Eric Draper

U.S. President George W. Bush has been relatively mum on space matters since unleashing his visionary call-to-arms earlier this year, putting NASA and the nation on a Moon, Mars, and beyond trajectory.

Last week the White House did release a fact sheet that made note of Apollo 11's 35th anniversary. The following day, on July 21, the President greeted the three Apollo 11 crewmen -- Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins -- in the Oval Office.

During their White House rendezvous, Armstrong and Collins also took part in an online interactive forum where the public submits questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House.

Apollo Bootprints: ready for company

The White House-released fact sheet, in part, underscores President Bush's new push in space.

"It's the summer of 2004 and NASA is plotting a new course into the cosmos. The Vision for Space Exploration calls for a return to the moon, followed by journeys of discovery to Mars and beyond. There are many uncertainties on the road ahead, but there should be no doubt that NASA can set lofty goals and meet them," the fact sheet states.

Recounting the political and technical backdrop that gave birth to Project Apollo, and detailing the Apollo 11 mission, the White House fact sheet explains that with the return to Earth splashdown on July 24, 1969 of the Apollo 11 crew, "America's first Vision for Space Exploration has been fulfilled."

The fact sheet concludes: "The bootprints of Apollo are ready for company."

Apollo 11 Astronauts Q & A

An "Ask the White House" session was carried out, but due to scheduling issues Armstrong and Collins were able to take only a few questions in a very rushed format. They had flights to catch and had a very limited amount of time.

The astronauts met in the Garden Room, outside of the Rose Garden. Armstrong wrote out a few answers while Collins recorded his responses to a few questions. Barney, the President's dog, joined the crew members for the brief online discussion.

The questions and answers from that discussion follow:

Mendel, from the Netherlands writes: At first my congratulations for what you did 35 years ago. I'm a university student, interested in space traveling a long time. How do you feel about the American initiative to go back to the moon? Did you ever want to go back to the moon in those 35 years, and would you now with the new space initiative, volunteer to go if it was possible?

Neil Armstrong: I am encouraged with the new initiative. I have wanted to return (I left a few things behind). If they offer me a Mars Command, I'll jump at it.

Dave, from Maine writes: Good morning gentlemen...congratulations on the 35th anniversary of your historic mission. Could you please tell us your thoughts when you first learned that you had been chosen to be the crew for Apollo 11...knowing it would be the first manned mission to the moon? Thanks for taking my question.

Neil Armstrong: At the time we were assigned to Apollo 11 the lunar module had not yet flown. So there was no way to know that it would be the first lunar landing attempt. We were delighted to be assigned to the flight, whatever the objective would be.

Daniel, from Great Barrington, MA writes: I am 14 years old and fascinated by space travel. Is it really possible send a human to Mars? In your mind could it work out practically?

Neil Armstrong: We technically have the ability to send humans to Mars. We still have a number of difficulties to surmount, but I believe we will overcome those barriers in the years ahead.

Melissa, from Alexandria, Virginia writes: Thirty-five years later, what remains the most memorable moment of your moon landing? Also, what do you believe we can learn from additional research on the moon that will help us most in the future? You're spirit of adventure continue to inspire me. Thank you for all you do.

Michael Collins: Seeing Neil and Buzz come back up from the surface of the moon to rejoin me in the command module Columbia.

Mark, from Pittsburgh PA writes: When Mr. Collins was orbiting during the Moon walk, how many times actually did he orbit and how long did each orbit take? And actually how many times did he circle around the Dark side and are there any photographs available that he might have taken? I think the Moon landings are the most awesome events I have ever witnessed in my life, thank you so much to all who made it possible.

Michael Collins: I think each orbit took two hours and I think there were a total of 20, 22 of them.

Dean, from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan writes: Good Morning Gentlemen. This is an extreme honor to speak with 3 men who have made a huge impact on history. I still remember that day when you walked on the moon. My question is what was it like when those engines started and you knew that your historic journey was about to begin?

Michael Collins: I was nervous that it was going to blow up.

Laura, from Iowa writes: Dear Apollo 11 Crew. What an honor to have you on the White House web site. My question today is very obvious: "What was it like stepping onto the surface of the moon?" I cannot even begin to imagine what it would be like. Thank you for your time.

Michael Collins: I was very happy when Neil and Buzz were walking on the moon and I was even happier when we were walking on the deck of the aircraft carrier.

Wesley, from Connecticut writes: I was disappointed to hear that on the 35th anniversary of your landing, a Congressional subcommittee took a blow against the new space vision and decided to cut funding to NASA. What are your thoughts on this? What can a 19-year-old do to save the vision? Thank you all for your service to our country.

Michael Collins: I think it is going to Mars.

Dave, from Maine writes: Good morning gentlemen...congratulations on the 35th anniversary of your historic mission. Could you please tell us your thoughts when you first learned that you had been chosen to be the crew for Apollo 11...knowing it would be the first manned mission to the moon? Thanks for taking my question.

Michael Collins: I was very happy to be on the crew of the first landing and furthermore I was very happy to be flying with Neil and Buzz.

Kenny, from Montgomery, AL writes: Did you ever want to go back to the moon?

Michael Collins: No, I haven't wanted to go back to the moon, but I want to go to Mars and I would go instantly if I had the opportunity.

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Leonard David
Space Insider Columnist

Leonard David is an award-winning space journalist who has been reporting on space activities for more than 50 years. Currently writing as Space.com's Space Insider Columnist among his other projects, Leonard has authored numerous books on space exploration, Mars missions and more, with his latest being "Moon Rush: The New Space Race" published in 2019 by National Geographic. He also wrote "Mars: Our Future on the Red Planet" released in 2016 by National Geographic. Leonard  has served as a correspondent for SpaceNews, Scientific American and Aerospace America for the AIAA. He was received many awards, including the first Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History in 2015 at the AAS Wernher von Braun Memorial Symposium. You can find out Leonard's latest project at his website and on Twitter.