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Apollo's Astronauts Honored

At a ceremony Tuesday to mark the 30th anniversary of the first landing on the moon, the men of Apollo 11 received the prestigious Langley Gold Medal for aviation and praise for an "astonishing" mission that united the nation.

Neil Armstrong, commander of Apollo 11, Edwin A. "Buzz" Aldrin and Michael Collins "blazed a path farther than any we have known," said Vice President Al Gore at the event held at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.

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

Gore, speaking at the ceremony staged beside the Apollo 11 command ship, said the astronauts accomplished their mission with what would now be considered primitive equipment.

The Apollo 11 onboard computer, he said, had less than one-thousandth the memory storage of a modern handheld electronic organizer and could hold data equal to only about one-twentieth of a typical floppy disk in modern computers.

Astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin Aldrin, in 1969
"It is even more astonishing that their mission was pulled off with the technology that was available then," said Gore.

The Langley Gold Medal, named for American aviation pioneer Samuel P. Langley, had been awarded only 21 times previously. The first recipients were Wilbur and Orville Wright in 1909.

Gore noted the Apollo 11 triumph came during a time that the United States was racked by demonstrations against the Vietnam War, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy, and urban riots.
Apollo 11, he said, gave a new sense of unity.

"We came together, transformed by the mission you undertook," he said. "Family and communities came together to watch with fear and pride."

Gore told Armstrong: "With your first step onto the Sea of Tranquility, you brought tranquility to us here at home."

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