Congress Presents Its First Gold Medals for Spaceflight Achievements

Congress Presents Its First Gold Medals for Spaceflight Achievements

The United States Congress presented Congressional Gold Medals to the Apollo 11 crew and John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, in a ceremony yesterday at the U.S. Capitol.

Several Members of Congress, including House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), along with NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong, and former Senator Glenn spoke. C-SPAN has a recording of the entire ceremony from start to finish. (Individual Members and NASA have posted segments where they are speaking on YouTube, but the C-SPAN recording is the only one we’ve found that shows the ceremony in its entirety.)

The medals actually were awarded two years ago, the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon. Yesterday’s ceremony was an official presentation of the medals and another opportunity for Congress, on a bipartisan, bicameral basis, to show its support for NASA. Despite the contentious partisan politics on most other matters, the space program typically is not a partisan issue on Capitol Hill. While the appropriations bill that is expected to be voted on tomorrow that includes NASA’s FY2012 funding (H.R. 2112) provides less than the President requested ($17.8 billion instead of $18.7 billion), all things considered, the agency did quite well.

All three Apollo 11 astronauts — Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins — were present, although Armstrong is the only one who spoke. He pointed out that in the history of the country, nine Congressional Gold Medals have been presented for achievements in aviation and rocketry, but these were the first for spaceflight. The first Congressional Gold Medal was presented to George Washington in 1776. The Wright Brothers, Charles Lindbergh, and Robert Goddard are among the aviation and rocketry recipients.

Senator Glenn was the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962 as part of the Mercury program. He left NASA and later became a U.S. Senator (1974-1999) and flew into space once more in 1998 at the close of his Senate career on a space shuttle mission (STS-95) at the age of 77. In his remarks, Glenn repeated comments he said he had made almost 50 years earlier when addressing a joint session of Congress after his Mercury mission: “As our knowledge of the universe in which we live increases, may God grant us the wisdom and guidance to use it wisely.”

Followng are links we were able to find to other comments made at the ceremony for the astronauts:

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