As Donald Trump reiterated his determination that Americans should walk on Mars, Mike Pence marked the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing at the Apollo 11 launch site in Florida on Saturday.
Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, accompanied Pence to Kennedy Space Center and showed him the pad where he began that momentous journey 50 years ago. Aldrin later got a standing ovation during a speech by Pence.
Mission commander Neil Armstrong, the first man to step onto the moon on 20 July 1969, died seven years ago. Command module pilot Michael Collins, who did not land on the moon, did not attend the Florida celebration.
Pence said Apollo 11 was the only event of the 20th century that “stands a chance of being widely remembered in the 30th century”. The vice-president reiterated the Trump administration’s push to put Americans back on the moon by 2024.
In a presidential message to mark “Space Exploration Day”, Trump said: “Sustained exploration that extends from our Earth to the moon and on to the Martian surface will usher in a new era of American ingenuity, drawing untold individuals into the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and defense.”
Elsewhere around the US, even as parts of the country sweltered under dangerous heat, anniversary events attracted sizeable crowds.
At the Museum of Flight in Seattle, the spacecraft that carried the three-man crew to the moon and back to Earth was on display as part of a traveling exhibit from the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC.
The Seattle museum added its own artefacts and some from private collections, including engine parts from Apollo missions that were salvaged from deep in the Atlantic ocean by Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos.
Visitor Gilda Warden sat on a bench and gazed in awe at the Apollo 11 command module, Columbia.
“It’s like entering the Sistine Chapel and seeing the ceiling. You want to just sit there and take it in,” said Warden, 63, a psychiatric nurse from Tacoma.
A celebration planned for Times Square in New York City was moved to a hotel due to the heat wave affecting the east coast and midwest. But the game went ahead at Yankee Stadium, where former space shuttle astronaut Mike Massimino threw out the ceremonial first pitch to former pitcher Jack Aker, who was on the mound when the 20 July 1969 game was interrupted to announce that the Eagle had landed.
Armstrong and Aldrin were “A1, No1, higher than major league,” Aker said.
In the aptly named Apollo, Pennsylvania, located in Armstrong county not far from the town of Mars and Moon Township, the local historical society revived an annual moon-landing celebration. All of the Apollo astronauts have long been honorary citizens of Apollo, the society’s Alan Morgan said.
In Armstrong’s hometown, Wapakoneta, Ohio, a smaller-scale event went ahead as local athletes competed in “Run to the Moon” races.
Wapakoneta 10K runner Robert Rocco, 54, a retired air force officer from Centerville, Ohio, called the moon landing by Armstrong and Aldrin “perhaps the most historic event in my lifetime, maybe in anybody’s lifetime”.
At events around the US, clocks counted down to the exact moment of the Eagle’s landing on the moon, 4.17pm ET, and Armstrong’s momentous step onto the lunar surface, at 10.56pm ET. The powdered orange drink Tang was back in vogue for toasts, along with MoonPies, including a 55lbs, 45,000-calorie MoonPie at Kennedy’s One Giant Leap bash in Florida.
About 100 visitors and staff at the American Space Museum in Titusville, across the Indian river from Kennedy, cheered and lifted plastic champagne cups of Tang at precisely 4.17pm.
“This is what we’re here for, to share the American space experience,” explained executive director Karan Conklin, who led the toast.