Leaders of Congress
honored astronauts John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael
Collins with congressional gold medals in a ceremony in the Capitol
Rotunda on Nov. 16, 2011. The Gold Medal, Congress' highest expression
of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and
contributions, was first given to George Washington in 1776.
Glenn was the first American to orbit the Earth, achieving the feat
aboard Friendship 7 on Feb. 20, 1962. On July 20, 1969, Armstrong and
Aldrin became the first humans to set foot on the Moon, while Collins
piloted Apollo 11's command module.
"We stand on the shoulders of the extraordinary men we recognize today,"
said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden at the ceremony. "Those of us who
have had the privilege to fly in space followed the trail they forged."
50 years ago this year, President Kennedy challenged the nation to reach
the moon, to "take longer strides" toward a "great new American
enterprise," these men were the human face of those words," said Bolden.
"From Mercury and Gemini, on through our landings on the Moon in the
Apollo Program, their actions unfolded the will of a nation for the
greater achievement of humankind."
Administrator Bolden also noted that five members of the most recent
Astronaut Candidate Class were in attendance, pointing out that the new
generation "will redefine space exploration in the years to come and
continue to honor the legacy of John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin,
and Michael Collins."