Leaders of Congress honored astronauts John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins with congressional gold medals in a ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda on Nov. 16, 2011. The Gold Medal, Congress' highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions, was first given to George Washington in 1776.
Glenn was the first American to orbit the Earth, achieving the feat aboard Friendship 7 on Feb. 20, 1962. On July 20, 1969, Armstrong and Aldrin became the first humans to set foot on the Moon, while Collins piloted Apollo 11's command module."We stand on the shoulders of the extraordinary men we recognize today," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden at the ceremony. "Those of us who have had the privilege to fly in space followed the trail they forged."
"When, 50 years ago this year, President Kennedy challenged the nation to reach the moon, to "take longer strides" toward a "great new American enterprise," these men were the human face of those words," said Bolden. "From Mercury and Gemini, on through our landings on the Moon in the Apollo Program, their actions unfolded the will of a nation for the greater achievement of humankind."