NEIL Armstrong reminisced yesterday about his "spectacular" arrival on the surface of the moon as America prepared to commemorate today's 40th anniversary of the mission that marked mankind's debut on another world.
The 79-year-old retired astronaut, who will be honoured by President Barack Obama during a White House reception later today, recalled during a commemoration of America's space heroes the moment that he first looked out across the lunar landscape, before planting the first human footsteps in the dusty soil.
"Any time you go to a place where everything you see is different than anything you've ever seen before in your life, it's unique and it's memorable – and that certainly was," he recalled, speaking at a ceremony hosted by the National Aviation Hall of Fame in Ohio.
Paying tribute to the spacemen who died while paving the way for his 1969 moonwalk, the first man on the moon spoke of the colleagues who gave their lives for America's early space programme and how their sacrifice laid the foundations for Nasa's decades of human space exploration.
Armstrong honoured Ed White, who in 1965 became the first American to walk in the vacuum of space but died alongside two other astronauts when fire swept the launchpad during tests of the pioneering Apollo 1 spacecraft.
"Ed had an acute dedication to his work, and he was committed to superiority in the conquest of space."
It was one of four public outings Mr Armstrong is making as part of this week's Apollo 11 anniversary festivities – only two of which were set to reunite him with both Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, his mission crewmates.
They were all due to appear at a lecture at the Smithsonian Institute's National Air and Space Museum in Washington last night, and the White House meeting today.
Aldrin, 79, who joined Armstrong at the weekend's Hall of Fame reception, appeared to downplay his colleague's "first man on the moon" tag during a subsequent book-signing appearance yesterday, arguing that being second out of the door of the lunar landing module, Eagle, was just as significant.
"The climax maybe of my life was landing on the moon with Neil, and landing is more important than walking around outside, despite what everybody wants to think," he said.
"Landing opens the door to do everything else that had never been done before."
Eugene Cernan, 75, flew the Apollo 10 mission that orbited the moon two months before Armstrong and Aldrin's landing.
He joked that his job had been to paint a white line through space to help the pair find their way.
"Everyone knew Neil could land on the moon, but we didn't have a lot of confidence Neil could find it," he quipped.
It prompted a smile from Armstrong, who replied: "I've been listening to that for 40 years, and this is not the time to change my position."
CHANCE FOR ARTY YOUNGTERS TO WIN TRIP TO SPACE CAMP
YOUNGSTERS dreaming of becoming a Nasa astronaut usually need a talent for quantum physics, mathematics and science.
But an art competition being launched next month will award a week's training at a US space camp to a Scottish pupil who creates the most vivid work of art inspired by outer space.
The competition is being run by teacher David Grigor, pictured, who attended the Honeywell Educators @ Space Academy at the US Space and Rocket Centre in Huntsville Alabama, earlier this month.
At the end of his one-week's scholarship, Mr Grigor was awarded a Right Stuff medal allowing him to nominate a pupil to share the space camp experience.
The "Right Stuff" refers to the unspoken code of bravery and determination of the earliest test pilots and Nasa astronauts. Mr Grigor, 40, a learning support teacher at Berwickshire High School in Duns, said: "I want children to be as creative as possible in their thinking and to use their imagination as much as possible. Nasa is trying to involve people of all generations and talents and the competition will let all children, not necessarily just the highly academic, set their sights high."
• Details of the competition, chaired by Gordon Duncan, a director of the East Lothian Social Network Enterprise and owner of the Accessible Art Company, will be announced in September