Trump meets with Apollo 11 astronauts to mark moon landing anniversary

Trump meets with Apollo 11 astronauts to mark moon landing anniversary
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenators demand more details from Trump on intel watchdog firing Overnight Health Care: Trump steps up attack on WHO | Fauci says deaths could be lower than first projected | House panel warns federal stockpile of medical supplies depleted | Mnuchin, Schumer in talks over relief deal Trump says he'll look into small business loan program restricting casinos MORE on Friday met with astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins and the family of Neil Armstrong to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. 

Trump welcomed the group to the Oval Office for a photo op, where he touted their place in history. Aldrin and Armstrong were the first men to walk on the moon, while Collins was part of the crew and piloted the module in lunar orbit. 

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Saturday marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

The president, flanked on Friday by Aldrin and Collins, touted his own administration's space exploration efforts and the development of Space Force.

"Space to me is important for defense and offense, I guess you could say," Trump said. "It’s not just about going to the moon and going to Mars, because we don’t know what we’re going to find on Mars but it’s certainly a trip that’s going to be very interesting."

Trump also expressed approval that technology companies are investing in space travel and developing rockets, saying it benefits the government without a large funding commitment.

“NASA’s back," he said. "We’re having rich guys use it and pay us rent. I like that."

Space exploration has been an area of focus in the Trump administration. The president signed an executive order in July 2017 to revive the National Space Council after more than two decades.

Vice President Pence, head of the White House's Space Council, announced in March that the Trump administration is committed to landing U.S. astronauts on the moon within the next five years.

But Trump last month scoffed at NASA's efforts to revisit the moon despite his own administration's commitment to the task, suggesting that sending humans to Mars should be the primary focus.

"For all of the money we are spending, NASA should NOT be talking about going to the Moon — We did that 50 years ago," the president tweeted in June. "They should be focused on the much bigger things we are doing, including Mars (of which the Moon is a part), Defense and Science!"

While the tweet caused confusion, Trump was likely referring to moon exploration serving as part of the broader end goal of reaching Mars and beyond. 

Trump on Friday again pressed the issue of whether it would be necessary to travel to the moon before going to Mars.

He asked NASA Administrator Jim BridenstineJames (Jim) Frederick BridenstineHow SpaceX is prospering in the year of the coronavirus pandemic The coronavirus pandemic argues for more funding for NASA's Artemis program, not less Katherine Johnson, 'hidden figure' at NASA during 1960s space race, dies at 101 MORE whether it would be possible to travel directly to Mars, at which point Bridenstine explained that stopping at the moon is a necessary part of the years-long journey to Mars.