U.S. marks 50 years after Apollo 11’s ‘giant leap’ on moon

An image of a 363-foot Saturn V rocket used in the Apollo 11 mission is projected on the Washington Monument during the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing festivities at the National Mall in Washington Thursday

To mark 50th anniversary of the first moon landing, the Planetarium and Science Gallery hosted an "out of this world space party" on Saturday evening with After Hours: Apollo 50 with hands-on Apollo space displays in the Science Gallery, special guests, a lunar module selfie station, and dance music from the '60s and '70's.

Mr Pence announced in March that NASA should return astronauts to the moon by 2024, halving the agency's previous deadline to get there by 2028, and requested an extra $1.6bn funding from Congress.

The plan will involve the recruitment of private companies and worldwide partners, the construction of a lunar space station and manned landings at the Moon's south pole within five years.

"Thanks to the hard work of the men and women of NASA, and of American industry, the Orion crew vehicle for the Artemis 1 mission is complete and ready to begin preparations for its historic first flight", Vice-President Pence told the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. A tribute to the lives lost in various space explorations from the past was also widely shared online.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), whose district includes NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, also commemorated the Apollo 11 anniversary, saying that when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, "every border and difference on Earth disappeared, and we were one humankind together".

In the United States, its 50th anniversary has revived public enthusiasm for crewed space flight, as NASA charts out new missions to the Moon and on to Mars.

And where better to celebrate than Apollo, Pennsylvania - located in Armstrong County not far from Moon Township and the town of Mars.

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U.S. President Donald Trump said in a statement Saturday that the moon landing was a steppingstone to future space missions: "I have instructed the National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA) to send the next man and first woman to the Moon and to take the next giant leap - sending Americans to Mars". A New Year-style countdown also marked the moment of Armstrong's first steps.

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine, standing alongside Mr Pence with Aldrin and Armstrong's son Rick, said: "Similar to the 1960s, we too have an opportunity to take a giant leap forward for all of humanity". According to NASA, during his visit, the Vice President would recognize the success of Apollo 11 and address progress in NASA's return to the Moon with the upcoming Artemis missions.

It is a crucial time for NASA since it is now being challenged by China, which is already building a very strong space presence to bring humans to the Moon.

"Are you sure that President Trump is on board with this plan?" "Is that a possibility?" the president asked Mr Bridenstine during an event in the Oval Office. "So, it evolved through the program, but it wasn't until Apollo 17 - the final mission - that someone with a geology background actually went to the moon".

Collins too is keen for crewed missions sooner rather than later, and has advocated for the U.S. to go "direct to Mars" rather than returning to the Moon first.

"It seems to me, Mars direct", Mr. Trump said.

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