The giant leap that Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took on the lunar surface 50 years ago today (July 20) is etched indelibly in the history books, Vice President Mike Pence said.
Apollo 11 "will be remembered forever," Pence said today during a 50th-anniversary celebration at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
"Apollo 11 is the only event in the 20th century that stands a chance of being widely remembered in the 30th century," added Pence, who chairs the newly resurrected National Space Council. "A thousand years from now, July 20, 1969 will likely be a date that will live in the minds and imaginations of men and women, as long as there are men and women to remember — across this world, across this solar system and beyond."
It is America's destiny to be a leader on our adventure into the great unknown. @VP Pence says at @POTUS' direction, "America will return to the Moon within the next five years. And the next man and first woman will be American astronauts"Watch: https://t.co/Pm1LdLzn1j pic.twitter.com/bDeMezvLgZJuly 20, 2019
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Pence also said that Apollo 11 left a mark on an entire generation — including the vice president himself, who said he watched the moon landing as a boy on a black-and-white TV in his family's Indiana home.
"They did more than win the space race," Pence said of Armstrong, Aldrin and Apollo 11 command module pilot Michael Collins, who stayed in lunar orbit while his two crewmates hopped about on the surface. "They brought together our nation, and for one brief moment, all the people of the world were truly one."
Both Pence and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who also spoke at today's event, stressed that the nation is carrying on Apollo 11's legacy with a crewed return to the moon by 2024. That planned mission, which is part of NASA's Artemis program, will put astronauts down near the lunar south pole, where water ice is abundant on the floors of permanently shadowed craters.
"We're going back," Pence said.
At least one of the crewmembers on that 2024 mission will be a woman, NASA officials have said. That will be a first; all 12 Apollo moonwalkers were men.
Artemis will rely heavily on a crew capsule called Orion and a huge new rocket called the Space Launch System (SLS), both of which are still in development. The duo is scheduled to fly together for the first time next summer, on an uncrewed mission around the moon called Artemis 1.
Aerospace company Lockheed Martin, NASA's prime contractor for Orion, has finished building the spacecraft that will fly on Artemis 1, Pence announced today.
NASA envisions building a long-term and sustainable presence on and around the moon by the late 2020s. But that's not the end goal; Artemis is designed to help humanity learn to live and work in deep space, laying the foundation for crewed missions to Mars, which NASA aims to launch in the 2030s.
Today's event at KSC was a star-studded affair. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, KSC Director Bob Cabana, and Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson also spoke, and Aldrin and Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison "Jack" Schmitt attended. Armstrong's son Rick and grandson Bryce were in the crowd as well. (Neil Armstrong died in 2012.)
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Mike Wall's book about the search for alien life, "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), is out now. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.