'One giant leap': Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon

Twelve Apollo astronauts reminisc­ed, traded stories and poked fun at each other as the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing and moonwalk approached.

The astronauts, including first moon men Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, attended the Dayton, Ohio ceremony in which the National Aviation Hall of Fame presented the Apollo crews with the Spirit of Flight award for their courage and dedication.

The crowd of hundreds at the National Museum of the United States Air Force erupted in cheers when a video chronicling the space programme replayed Armstrong's famous first words after stepping on the moon 20 July 1969: "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

"It was spectacular," Armstrong recalled of gazing at the moon's surface as he took those first steps.

"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."

However, Armstrong said he and Aldrin had little time to savour the experience. "We didn't rest hardly five seconds when we got a message from Mission Control saying get on with the next item," Armstrong said.

Armstrong said he had been a backup on Apollo 8 and that when he wasn't needed was asked if he wanted to be on the third mission down the line – what turned out to be the fateful Apollo 11 mission. "We knew we had a chance at landing, but it was by no means certain," he said.

Astronaut Eugene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon, also flew in the Apollo 10 flight preceding Armstrong's. He joked that his job was to paint a white line to the moon that Apollo 11 could follow. "Everyone knew Neil could land on the moon, but we didn't have a lot of confidence Neil could find it," Cernan quipped.

"I've been listening to that for 40 years, and this is not the time to change my position," Armstrong shot back, drawing laughs from the crowd.