WH defends limited access to Apollo crew

Astronaut Neil Armstrong’s critical statements before his death did not influence a decision to limit media access to a meeting between President Obama and the surviving Apollo 11 crew and family members on Tuesday, the White House said.

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Armstrong, who became the first man to walk on the moon 45 years ago, was critical in 2011 testimony of the administration's move to cancel the Constellation program, which would have returned humans to the moon.

"For a country that has invested so much for so long to achieve a leadership position in space exploration and exploitation, this condition is viewed by many as lamentably embarrassing and unacceptable," Armstrong said.

But the White House said the comments "absolutely" did not contribute to the decision to allow only photojournalists — and not print or TV reporters — into the Oval Office meeting with Armstrong's widow and Apollo 11 astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins.

"The president invited the crew members of Apollo 11 to the White House to honor their contribution to space exploration and to the innovation in the field of science," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said. "It's a genuine honor for the president to have him here today, and he's proud about the fact that they chose to come.

"I will also say that we are proud of the policy that this president's put in place to take our space program to the next level," he added. "And we're very optimistic about the future of the American space program."

The spokesman said the decision was due to a tight presidential schedule.

In a statement Tuesday, Obama said he was "honored" to welcome the astronauts and their family members to the White House "and to thank them for serving as advocates, role models, and educators who’ve inspired generations of Americans — myself included — to dream bigger and reach higher."

The president said that today "the men and women of NASA are building on that proud legacy by preparing for the next giant leap in human exploration — including the first visits of men and women to deep space, to an asteroid, and someday to the surface of Mars — all while partnering with America’s pioneering commercial space industry in new and innovative ways."