7/20/2019 11:12:00 AM Nation celebrates 50th anniversary of 1st lunar footsteps
Marcia Dunn AP Aerospace Writer
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — A moonstruck nation celebrated the 50th anniversary of humanity’s first footsteps on another world Saturday, gathering in record heat at races and other festivities to commemorate Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s “giant leap.”
At NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, cars were backed up for miles outside the visitor complex at opening time. In Armstrong’s hometown of Wapakoneta, Ohio, nearly 2,000 runners competed in “Run to the Moon” races.
“We’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of perhaps the most historic event in my lifetime, maybe in anybody’s lifetime, the landing on the moon,” said 10K runner Robert Rocco, 54, of Centerville, Ohio. “The ‘60s were very turbulent. But that one bright wonderful moment was the space program.”
The Eagle lunar lander, carrying Armstrong and Aldrin, landed on the Sea of Tranquility on July 20, 1969. Armstrong was the first one out, proclaiming for the ages: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
“Few moments in our American story spark more pride than the Apollo 11 mission,” President Donald Trump said in a Space Exploration Day message. His statement reiterated the goal of sending astronauts back to the moon within five years and taking “the next giant leap — sending Americans to Mars.”
Armstrong died in 2012, leaving Aldrin, 89, and command module pilot Michael Collins, 88, to mark the golden anniversary. Both astronauts and the Armstrong family met with Trump in the Oval Office on Friday, with Collins pushing for a direct mission to Mars and skipping the moon, and Aldrin expressing dismay at the past few decades of human space exploration.
On Saturday, Aldrin and Armstrong’s son, Rick, traveled with Vice President Mike Pence to Florida to visit the Apollo 11 launch pad and the building where the astronauts suited up for liftoff on July 16, 1969, now known as the Neil Armstrong Operations and