NBC News noted on Tuesday that President Obama met in the Oval Office with Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, the surviving Apollo 11 astronauts. Also in attendance were Carol Armstrong, he widow of the late Neil Armstrong, as well as NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, and Patricia “Pat” Falcone, OSTP Associate Director for National Security & International Affairs. Recently the word celebrated the 45th anniversary of the flight of Apollo 11, which first landed men on the moon on July, 20, 1969. The White House released a statement to go along with the photo op.
“Forty-five years ago, while the world watched as one, the United States of America set foot on the moon. It was a seminal moment not just in our country’s history, but the history of all humankind.
“The three brave astronauts of Apollo 11 –Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins – took the first small steps of our giant leap into the future. And for all the years since, they and their families have served as testaments to American ingenuity and human achievement. Today, I was honored to welcome Buzz, Michael, and Neil’s wife, Carol, to the White House to mark this historic anniversary – 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.
“Today, under Administrator Bolden’s leadership, 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.
“The United States of America is stronger today thanks to the vision of President Kennedy, who set us on a course for the moon, the courage of Neil, Buzz, and Michael, who made the journey, and the spirit of service of all who’ve worked not only on the Apollo program, but who’ve dared to push the very boundaries of space and scientific discovery for all humankind.”
The meeting did not go without some controversy, as the Daily Caller noted. The press was barred from the Oval Office meeting. The White House Correspondents’ Association filed a formal complaint against the White House for that exclusion. CBS chief White House correspondent Major Garret brought the matter up during Tuesday’s White House press conference.
“The astronauts were among the most visible, televised heralds this country has ever known. That entire program is financed by the American taxpayer. We believe that that is a classic definition of something that should have the broadest press coverage imaginable.”
ABC chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl was also miffed at the exclusion. While White House press secretary Josh Earnest attempted to suggest that the matter was due to a scheduling conflict, Karl was having none of it. He suggested that the president might have decided to be a little late for his next fund raiser to give access to the Apollo astronauts for the media.
The substance of the conversation in the Oval Office was not revealed by the White House. Karl speculates that the reason the meeting was kept secret was that some of the Apollo astronauts, including the late Armstrong, had been critical of Obama administration space policy. It wanted to avoid embarrassing question that might have been put to the astronauts by the media. Aldrin had wanted the president to use the occasion of the moon landing anniversary to announce some new space initiative. The White House has thus far chosen to demur.