Obama and Aldrin praise Armstrong

Obama and Aldrin praise Armstrong

WASHINGTON - Agence France-Presse
Obama and Aldrin praise Armstrong

Barack Obama (R) posing with Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong in the Oval Office of the White House. AFP photo

President Barack Obama and astronaut Buzz Aldrin led tributes Saturday to the famed Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, lauding him as a reluctant but true American hero.

Armstrong, who died from complications following cardiac bypass surgery, was praised for his willingness to embrace and then conquer challenges that had once seemed impossible.

“When he and his fellow crew members lifted off aboard Apollo 11 in 1969, they carried with them the aspirations of an entire nation,” said Obama, who was two weeks short of his eighth birthday when the historic mission succeeded.

“They set out to show the world that the American spirit can see beyond what seems unimaginable -- that with enough drive and ingenuity, anything is possible,” he added in a statement.

“When Neil stepped foot on the surface of the moon for the first time, he delivered a moment of human achievement that will never be forgotten.” Aldrin, who with Armstrong was watched by an estimated global television audience of 500 million as they gingerly bounced on the moon’s surface in their chunky spacesuits, praised his comrade’s skill, dedication and selflessness.

“I know I am joined by millions of others in mourning the passing of a true American hero and the best pilot I ever knew,” Aldrin said, noting that his thoughts were with Armstrong’s devastated but proud family.

“I will miss my friend Neil as I know our fellow citizens and people around the world will miss this foremost aviation and space pioneer.” The third Apollo 11 astronaut -- Michael Collins, the command module pilot who orbited the moon while his crewmates landed -- said Armstrong “was the best, and I will miss him terribly.” Armstrong, a Korean War veteran who was decorated by 17 countries and received a slew of US honors, was never comfortable with the worldwide fame that stemmed from the Apollo 11 mission, and he shied away from the limelight.

“He didn’t feel that he should be out huckstering himself,” John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth told CNN, recalling Armstrong’s legendary humility.