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Obama honors Apollo 11 astronauts on 40th anniversary
Apollo 11 Astronauts Heal
In this July 20, 1969 file photo from NASA, Astronaut Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., lunar module pilot, is photographed by Neil Armstrong walking near the lunar module during the Apollo 11 extravehicular activity. - photo by Associated Press
    WASHINGTON — Hailing the Apollo 11 astronauts as "three genuine American heroes," President Barack Obama said Monday that exploration spurs ingenuity and inspires students in math and science.
    In an Oval Office ceremony commemorating the day 40 years ago when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took man's first steps on the moon, Obama compared their accomplishment to his goal of the United States having the highest college graduation rates in the world by 2020.
    Obama said he wanted to use the anniversary of the Apollo moon landing to show that "math and science are cool again."
    "The touchstone for excellence in exploration and discovery is always going to be represented by the men of Apollo 11," Obama said. He said their work sparked "innovation, the drive, the entrepreneurship, the creativity back here on Earth."
    The president said he recalled watching Apollo astronauts return to Hawaii after splashing down in the Pacific Ocean. He said he'd sit on his grandfather's shoulders and "we'd pretend like they could see us as we were waving at folks coming home."
    Obama praised Armstrong, Aldrin and command module pilot Michael Collins for their "calm under pressure, the grace with which these three gentlemen operated."
    Obama didn't talk about future NASA missions. Aldrin, Collins and six other Apollo astronauts used the anniversary to make a pitch for a mission to Mars.
    For his part Obama said he wanted to make sure that NASA "is going to be there for them when they want to take their journey."
    The Apollo 11 crew has visited the White House every five years and met with every president since Richard Nixon, except Gerald Ford.
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