Obama praises Apollo astronauts, calls them an ‘inspiration’

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President Obama on Monday celebrated the 40th anniversary of the U.S. moon-walk by honoring Apollo 11 astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins and Neil Armstrong.

“All of us thank all of you,” said Mr. Obama, who recalled his childhood in Hawaii sitting on his grandfather’s shoulders to watch space capsules return to Earth, then splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

Mr. Obama stood beside the astronauts at the White House ceremony as he praised them for their “heroism, grace and calm under pressure.”

Click here for Washington Times special coverage of the 40th anniversary.

“I think all of us recall the moment in which mankind finally was untethered from this planet and was able to explore the stars; the moment in which we had one of our own step on the moon and leave that imprint that is there to this day,” the president said.

He said the moon-exploration mission had practical implications that went beyond satisfying the world’s curiosity.

“You inspired an entire generation of scientists and engineers,” the president said.

Mr. Obama also said he hopes the anniversary of the July 20, 1969, moon landing would inspire another generation of scientists and fulfill his goal of returning U.S. students to worldwide prominence.

“One of the things that I’ve committed to doing as president is making sure that math and science are cool again and that we once again keep the goal by 2020 of having the highest college graduation rates of any country on earth, especially in the maths and science fields,” he said.

Mr. Obama expressed confidence in NASA and the space agency’s missions but said the benchmark of excellence likely will remain with Mr. Armstrong, Mr. Aldrin and Mr. Collins, whom he called icons.

“I think it’s fair to say that the touchstone for excellence in exploration and discovery is always going to be represented by the men of Apollo 11,” he said. “The country continues to draw inspiration from what you’ve done.”

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