POSTED: Wednesday, November 16, 2011 - 5:09pm
UPDATED: Wednesday, November 16, 2011 - 8:06pm
NBC NEWS — A ceremony today honored four astronauts with the Congressional Gold Medal.
The first American astronaut to orbit the earth and the crew of the first moon landing were awarded the medal: Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, John Glenn, and Michael Collins were awarded the highest civilian honor this morning.
The four men, now in their 80’s and 90’s, accepted the medals from members of the House and Senate in the capitol rotunda.
"We must consider ourselves among the most fortunate of all generations for we have lived at a time when the dream became a reality,” stated John Glenn. “When we finally could travel above the atmosphere around the earth, where we could establish laboratories in space, and do research, and for the very first time in history, leave human footprints on someplace other than earth."
As the one generation of astronauts is honored, NASA says they are looking for the next generation of astronauts to take on the mission of space discovery.
The space agency is hiring new astronauts to go into space. However, they still need to get a spaceship. Only a handful of astronauts each year will go into orbit aboard Russia's Soyuz spaceship.
Within five years, NASA hopes to purchase trips for astronauts headed to the international space station on American-built commercial rockets.