Celebrations cap series of events marking NASA's 1969 Moon landing

WASHINGTON, Gretel Johnston (dpa)- The United States on Saturday marks the day 50 years ago that NASA landed astronauts on the Moon, one of the space agency's crowning achievements and an anniversary that it hopes will inspire a return to the Moon and beyond.
Space enthusiasts and Moon gazers around the world will pause at 4:17 pm (2017 GMT) - the exact moment in 1969 that the module carrying astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon.

Many people will recall the tense moments when Armstrong had to steer the module away from a boulder-strewn crater within seconds of fuel running out.
"Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed," were Armstrong's words to mission control in the Texas city, prompting the relieved controller to respond, "You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again."
About six hours later, Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the Moon, summing up the achievement with words that went down in history: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
The two astronauts collected Moon rocks and stuck an American flag into the dusty surface before departing the next day to meet up with Michael Collins in the command module and return to Earth.
The anniversary already has been celebrated at numerous events across the US as NASA hopes to inspire a new generation of engineers and astronauts who will carry out its current plans to return to the Moon and then send a crew to Mars.
Festivities will culminate Saturday when Vice President Mike Pence commemorates the anniversary at Kennedy Space Center in Florida followed by evening events in Washington, including a concert featuring the National Symphony Orchestra and a show on the National Mall featuring an image of the Saturn V rocket projected onto the Washington Monument.
In 1961, president John Kennedy committed the nation to the goal of "landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth" before the close of the decade. NASA made it with only months to spare but Kennedy, killed by an assassin in 1963, didn't live to see the achievement.
Millions of people around the world stopped to watch history being made live on television, their interest piqued not only by the boldness of the mission but by cold war tension between Western democracies and the communist countries controlled by Moscow.
While the Soviet Union scored early achievements by putting a satellite into orbit and sending the first human into space, the Moon landing gave the US bragging rights in the space race. Within a few years the two countries began working together, a collaboration that continues today on the International Space Station.
President Donald Trump, who met with Collins, 88, and Aldrin, 89, at the White House on Friday, has shown enthusiasm for NASA's current goal to return to the Moon and eventually send a crew to Mars.
There is a "love for space that is unparalleled" within his administration, Trump said Friday, saying the anniversary of the achievement on Saturday will be "a big day" for the US.
Aldrin tweeted afterwards that he and Collins had an "excellent meeting" with Trump. "We discussed America’s future in space, ways to address space challenges, and the need to keep exploring beyond the horizon. Keep America Great in Space!" Aldrin said.

Saturday, July 20th 2019
Gretel Johnston (dpa)

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