Astronauts hailed as heroes 50 years after historic moon landing

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A little over six hours later, at 10:56pm ET (0256 GMT Sunday), Armstrong placed his left foot on the Moon's surface, and said: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind".

Back in 1994 on the 25th anniversary of his moon landing with Neil Armstrong, Aldrin questioned whether astronauts would be back on the moon by the 50th anniversary let alone on Mars, which was the short-lived goal at that time.Fast-forward to the golden anniversary and NASA doesn't even have the capability to get astronauts into orbit around Earth.

On July 16, 1969, astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins lifted off on a Saturn V rocket on a journey to the moon.

On Saturday, Pence, Aldrin and Armstrong's older son, Rick, visited the Apollo 11 launch pad, now leased by SpaceX, and the building now named for Armstrong where the astronauts suited up for liftoff on July 16, 1969. "We honor these men today, and America will always honor our Apollo astronauts".

Apollo 17, the final manned moon mission, took place in 1972.

At the moment the spacecraft landed, Apollo 11 commander Armstrong said: "Houston, Tranquility Base here".

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"Apollo 11 is the only event in the 20th century that stands a chance of being widely remembered in the 30th century", Pence said.

The completion he referred to was the long-awaited integration of the Orion crew module, built by Lockheed Martin, with the European-built service module.

First in line Saturday was computer programmer Tim Turner.

As the rocket launched, a Nasa presenter said: "And lift off - 50 years after a small step for man, the Soyuz rocket and its multinational crew take a giant leap off the launch pad bound for the worldwide space station". At the same time halfway around the world, an American and two other astronauts blasted into space from Kazakhstan on a Russian rocket. "We all love Apollo".

U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday indicated he was not interested in a mission going back to the moon, despite his administration's plans for it. Trump instead repeated his interest in a NASA mission that would take astronauts directly to Mars, a vastly more challenging and costly endeavor.

Aldrin, now 89, groused that the USA has been lagging since those early Apollo missions, according to the Associated Press: "We have the number-one rocket right now in the USA and we have the number-one spacecraft, and they can not get into lunar orbit with significant maneuvering capability". By moving up the target lunar landing date from 2028 to 2024, NASA hopes to retire as much political risk as possible by getting out of the gate fast."If it wasn't for the political risk, we would be on the moon right now. Is that a possibility?" the Republican president asked Bridenstine during an event in the White House Oval Office.

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