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Apollo 11 mission patch to fly with first astronauts to Mars

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Astronauts heading to Mars will be carrying a relic from the first great step for humans into outer space. Aboard the capsule heading to the Red Planet, space travelers will ferry a patch from the historic Apollo 11 mission.

NASA officially provided the framed patch to officials at the Kennedy Space Center, during a ceremony held 21 July. The 45-year-old emblem will be housed at that facility, before being placed aboard a space capsule heading to Mars sometime in the 2030's.

Neil Armstrong, the first person to walk on the Moon, was also honored at the facility. The Operations and Checkout (O&C) Building has been renamed after the late space pioneer.

"As we develop and test the new tools of 21st century spaceflight on the human Path to Mars, we once again will change the course of history," NASA officials wrote in a press release.

The patch was flown aboard the first human mission to our planetary companion, launched 16 July 1969. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin gently descended to the lunar surface four days later. The artifact was one of a set silkscreened on a single piece of fabric, which accompanied the astronauts on the historic mission. They were created for use as souvenirs of Apollo 11, and the Mars-bound patch was presented to James Fletcher, then head of NASA, in 1987. The patch was held at NASA headquarters until 1992. That year, it traveled to the Smithsonian, where it went on display in an exhibit titled "Where Next, Columbus?" This centered on a possible future human mission to Mars. Ten years later, the patch was returned to NASA headquarters.

Across the top, command module pilot Michael Collins wrote, "Carried to the moon aboard Apollo 11, Presented to the Mars 1 crew." Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins each signed the historic artifact.

"At NASA, we're working on the next giant leap - a human mission to Mars, standing on the shoulders of astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said.

The Apollo 11 patch features an eagle landing on the moon, as it holds an olive branch, symbolizing peace. Visitors to the Kennedy Space Center will be able to see the patch on periodic display at the facility. Special care is being taken to prevent further fading of the signatures.

The Orion spacecraft is designed to ferry human beings past low Earth orbit for the first time since the Apollo missions. This vehicle, essential to NASA's mission to Mars, is nearly ready for testing.

An American flag flown about the first crewed space mission in 1961 with Alan Shepard, also rode aboard the Space Shuttle on the 100th human mission in 1995. Another flag, which flew on the first shuttle mission in 1981, was brought to the International Space Station (ISS) in 1995, during the final flight of that system. That relic will move on in 2017, with the arrival of the first humans arriving at the orbiting outpost aboard a private spacecraft.

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