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Apollo 11 at 30

Apollo 11 astronauts honored for 'astonishing' mission

Gore, right, presents the Langley Gold Medal to Collins, an astronaut aboard Apollo 11 in 1969  

Apollo 11 at 30


Tranquillity base +30


The Space Race

July 20, 1999
Web posted at: 12:50 p.m. EDT (1650 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Surrounded by lunar relics, Vice President Al Gore honored the three former astronauts of Apollo 11 on Tuesday, the 30th anniversary of the first landing on the moon.

"They blazed a path farther than any we had ever known," said Gore in ceremonies at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, home to thousands of artifacts, including the Apollo 11 Command Module, moon rocks, spacesuits and photographs.

Gore, who is vice chancellor of the Smithsonian Institution's Board of Regents, which oversees the museum, presented the prestigious Langley Gold Medal for aviation to Neil Armstrong, who commanded Apollo 11 and was the first man to walk on the moon, Edwin A. "Buzz" Aldrin and Michael Collins. The men met at the White House with President Clinton, who said they had made "an extraordinary contribution" to the nation.

On July 20, 1969, Armstrong and Aldrin landed the Apollo lunar module they called Eagle on the moon's Sea of Tranquillity. Hours later, Armstrong descended a ladder and became the first to walk on the lunar surface. Collins remained in lunar orbit aboard the command ship, Columbia.

Gore said that, in retrospect, the accomplishment was more incredible considering the limits of science and equipment. He cited the onboard computer, which could hold data equal to only about one-twentieth of a typical floppy disk in modern computers.

"Compared to what we take for granted today, it is even more astonishing that this feat was pulled off with the technology tools you had at your disposal at the time," he said.

Wright brothers also medal recipients

Speaking for the trio, Armstrong talked about the history of the award, which was established in 1908.

Former astronauts
From left, Collins, Armstrong and Aldrin at the ceremony at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington  

He recalled the rivalry between the elder Professor Samuel Pierpoint Langley, for whom the medal is named, and the younger Wright brothers -- Wilbur and Orville -- as they competed to achieve the first powered airplane flight.

In June 1899, Wilbur Wright sent $1 to the Smithsonian to buy a copy of Langley's book on aerodynamics. Within four years, the brothers and the professor were rivals.

"Despite being competitors, the Wrights held great respect for Langley," Armstrong said, recalling a letter that Orville wrote years later:

"The fact that the great scientist believed in flying machines was the one thing that encouraged us to begin our studies," Wright wrote.

The Langley Medal was established by the Smithsonian Board of Regents in 1908 at the suggestion of Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone. The medal is awarded for "meritorious investigations in connection with the science of aerodromics and its application to aviation."

Past recipients include the Wrights (1909), Charles A. Lindbergh (1927), who made the first solo nonstop trans- Atlantic flight, and Alan B. Shepard Jr. (1964), the first American to be launched into space.

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