US vice president remembers Neil Armstrong on Apollo 11 anniversary

By Jamie Harris, PA Science Technology Reporter

US vice president Mike Pence has paid tribute to astronaut Neil Armstrong as the world celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

On July 16 1969, Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins were blasted off into space on a mission like no other, aiming to put mankind on the moon for the first time.

Among a number of events to mark the occasion, the vice president hosted the unveiling of Armstrong’s spacesuit, which is back on display at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum for the first time in 13 years.

Rick Armstrong, the son of Neil Armstrong (left), vice president Mike Pence (centre), and Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum director Ellen Stofan (right), unveil Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 spacesuit (Andrew Harnik/AP)

In a speech watched by the late astronaut’s wife, son and grandson, Mr Pence praised Armstrong’s courage and “incredible accomplishment”.

The commander died in August 2012 at the age of 82, following complications from a cardiovascular procedure.

“The risks were great, the odds were long, and they were so long that some even feared that if we could make it to the moon we might not be able to make it back,” he said.

“I expect it is moving for his family and for every family to remember the dangers and the risks at the time that this spacesuit simply may have been the very last thing that Neil Armstrong ever wore, in fact, there was a time and during that time that scientists speculated whether when a lunar module like this one behind me landed on the moon, whether it would be able to lift off again.

He continued: “His courage was displayed perhaps nowhere more profoundly than in the moments just before the Apollo 11 lunar module landed on the surface of the moon, it was that coolness during the original landing that likely saved the lives of the two astronauts that were aboard the lunar module.

“When the original landing area turned out to be so full of large boulders that landing there would have doomed the mission and the crew, history records again that Neil Armstrong calmly took the control of the module, skimmed across the top of the lunar surface and manually found a safe spot to touch down. By the time he set down, Armstrong and Aldrin had 17 seconds of fuel left remaining. It’s incredible.

“So today we remember the service and accomplishments of Apollo 11, and of its commander, Neil Armstrong, but we also do well to remember his courage and that steely professionalism that saw him through an entire career of incredible accomplishment and saw that mission to a safe landing and return home.”

Mr Pence also shared his own memories of Apollo 11, saying it “stamped an indelible mark” on his life.

“I remember that day, and as I speak to Americans younger than me, I feel even more privileged to have been sitting in the basement of our home as those snowy images came back, the black and white images of that incredible moment,” he explained.

The vice president took the opportunity to mention renewed ambitions for the US to return to space within five years, which was made a policy by President Donald Trump earlier this year.

Apollo 11: command/service module (PA Graphics)

“I have a feeling that the man who wore the suit that we will unveil today would be glad to know that the first woman and next man on the moon will also be an American,” Mr Pence added.

Meanwhile, astronauts Aldrin and Collins have returned to the exact spot where they began their journey to the moon 50 years ago, at the Kennedy Space Centre’s Launch Complex 39A in Cape Canaveral, Florida.