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Pence Lauds Apollo Astronauts on Anniversary of Moon Landing 

Vice President Mike Pence points to Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin during an event at the Kennedy Space Center in recognition of the Apollo 11 anniversary, July 20, 2019, in Cape Canaveral, Fla.

On the 50th anniversary of humanity’s first moon landing, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence paid tribute to the three American astronauts who helped make the historic event a reality.

"They did more than win the space race, they brought together our nation, and for one brief moment, all the people of the world were truly one," Pence said at an anniversary event Saturday at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

"Now, true to their creed, astronauts have never liked the idea of being called heroes. Yet for all they did, for all the risks they took, if Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins are not heroes, then there are no heroes," said Pence, chairman of the National Space Council, to enthusiastic applause.

On July 20, 1969, America's lunar module named Eagle touched down at 2018 GMT, with Armstrong, the late astronaut, placing his left foot on the lunar surface six hours later.

The landing was an enormous diplomatic and technological Cold War-era achievement for the U.S., which was bested by the Soviet Union in putting the first human and satellite in space.

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."

The administration has launched plans to return to the moon by 2024 and land on Mars for the first time by 2033.

But debate about whether to return to the moon or go directly to Mars resurfaced Friday during a White House Oval Office gathering that included Apollo 11 astronauts Aldrin and Collins.

Collins, 88, who stayed in the command module while Aldrin and Armstrong descended to the moon, told Trump he supported going directly to Mars.