Nearly half the American astronauts who flew in space shared a day of memories Thursday with the President. It was one small ceremony for man, recalling one giant leap for mankind.
"It's hard to believe that 20 years have passed," said President Bush of man's first landing on the moon. "Three days and three nights they journeyed. It was a perilous, unprecedented, breathtaking voyage. And each of us remember the night."
"They" were the men of Apollo 11, which set down on the Sea of Tranquility on July 20, 1969: Neil Armstrong, Edwin (Buzz) Aldrin Jr. and Michael Collins.
On that day, they were the only human beings away from their world; on Thursday, they bathed in the glow of reminiscence outside the National Air and Space Museum only a few feet from the command module Columbia which carried them to the moon and into the history books.
Armstrong, the first of 12 Americans who walked the moon, said the space effort in the 1960s had "a nobility of purpose . . . not to conquer enemies, but to conquer ignorance."
Buzz Aldrin, No. 2 on the moon and now a strong advocate of proceeding onward to Mars said "the time for seizing the initiative in space is upon us."
And Michael Collins, who orbited overhead as a lonely lifeguard while Armstrong and Aldrin pirouetted on the moon, said "we have rested on our Apollo laurels long enough; it's time to get moving again."
The President had words for America:
"For those old enough to remember that historic night 20 years ago, step outside tonight with your children or your grandchildren. Lift your eyes skyward, and tell them of the flag--the American flag--that still flies proudly in the ancient lunar soil. . . .
"Project Apollo. The first men on the moon. Some called it quixotic, impossible--had never been done. But America dreamed it. And America did it."
Among the 700 guests at the ceremony were 66 of the 126 Americans who have gone into space, including 21 of the 30 who flew on Apollo.
They went for the most part unrecognized: Pete Conrad and Alan Bean, second on the moon on Apollo 12; Jim Lovell and Fred Haise, who were going there but didn't make it because of an explosion--the third man on their Apollo 13 voyage, John Swigert has died.
There were also Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt, the last on the moon--more than 16 years ago.
"That was first rate," said Thomas Paine, NASA administrator, of the President's speech. "A good beginning."
John Young, who made two Apollo flights, called it a great speech and said he wasn't disturbed that Bush was not specific about time and costs for the program he envisioned. "Nobody knows what it will cost," said Young, who also has flown the space shuttle four times, "if anybody tells you the cost today, don't believe it."
Said Rusty Schweickart, who was on Apollo 9, a moon flight rehearsal: "Part of the problem of Apollo was it had a single, wonderful goal but nothing to sustain the momentum."
Richard Truly, twice a shuttle astronaut and now head of the space agency, called Bush's speech "dynamite . . . a clear road map."
In his speech, Bush said he is asking "my right hand man", Vice President Quayle--chairman of the National Space Council--to develop realistic timetables and milestones for future exploration and to report back.
Quayle, who has been making pro-space speeches, said that "when Americans set their minds to accomplish something, we always exceed our expectations."
He addressed the crowd as "my fellow astronauts."