Apollo 11 Plus 45: President Obama Meets With Astronauts

Image: Obama and Apollo 11 astronauts
President Barack Obama, at right, meets with the surviving members of Apollo 11, astronauts Michael Collins (left) and Buzz Aldrin (center), in the Oval Office at the White House to mark the 45th anniversary of the moon mission on Tuesday. Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong passed away in 2012, but he was represented by his widow, Carol Armstrong. Mark Wilson / Getty Images

For the first time, a major anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing was marked at the White House without the mission's commander, Neil Armstrong.

Tuesday's 45th-anniversary sitdown in the Oval Office included President Barack Obama and Apollo 11 astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, the two surviving members of the mission. Armstrong passed away nearly two years ago at the age of 82, but his widow, Carol, attended in his stead.

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Astronauts Visit the White House on Apollo 11 Anniversary 1:00

After the photo op, the White House issued a statement in which Obama thanked the astronauts for "serving as advocates, role models, and educators who've inspired generations of Americans – myself included – to dream bigger and reach higher." He said NASA was building on Apollo 11's legacy "by preparing for the next giant leap in human exploration" — a leap that would eventually lead to the surface of Mars.

For an insider's perspective on Apollo 11, give a listen to an hourlong "Virtually Speaking Science" podcast featuring NBC News' Jay Barbree, author of the best-selling book "Neil Armstrong: A Life of Flight."