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Obama Hosts White House Astronomy Night

President Barack Obama looks up at the moon as he talks with Agatha Sofia Alvarez-Bareiro, left, a high school senior from the Brooklyn borough of New York, at the second-ever White House Astronomy Night on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Oct. 19, 2015.

President Barack Obama told dozens of students gathered on the South Lawn of the White House Monday night that they could be the ones participating in the first missions to Mars within the next two decades.

The president hosted students, teachers, astronomers, engineers and space enthusiasts from across the country for the second-ever White House Astronomy Night. Obama joined the attendees in stargazing through a high-powered telescope, holding genuine space artifacts and meeting the nation's top scientists and astronauts.

Standing on stage next to a spacesuit, Obama emphasized his administration's efforts in preparing more young people to pursue studies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, commonly referred to as STEM. He announced a new set of private-sector commitments to further that goal, such as an initiative to create 100 STEM networks across the nation in five years, and supporting after-school and summer STEM programs for more than 500,000 students in dozens of states.

"America can do anything," the president declared. "We've just got to keep on encouraging every new generation to explore, and invent, and create and discover."

With the help of a high school senior, Obama peered at the moon through a large telescope, proclaiming the sight "spectacular."

Among the guests Monday was Ahmed Mohamed, the Texas teenager arrested for bringing his homemade clock to school where it was mistaken for a bomb.

The president had personally invited Ahmed to the White House and told him to bring his "cool clock."