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APOLLO 11 ASTRO SETTLES 20-YEAR-OLD DEBATE

Neil Armstrong, settling a debate that has simmered since he became the first human on the moon 20 years ago, said Friday that his immortal words - "That's one small step for a man" - were composed on the spot.

Armstrong, commander of Apollo 11, which landed on the moon on July 20, 1969, was reunited with his two crewmates for a news conference in advance of the exuberant celebrations planned across the world to mark the anniversary.He was asked when exactly he decided on the words "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind," which he said after climbing down the ladder on the lunar lander.

"It was a statement that was natural in the sense of the time," Armstrong said. "I thought about it after we got there."

With that he destroyed long-standing rumors in space circles that it was not Armstrong - an engineer and jet test pilot - who created those words for history, but some anonymous public relations genius hitting on a felicitous phrase.

Armstrong, along with lunar module pilot Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin and command module pilot Michael Collins, fielded questions from reporters with humor and self-deprecation for the niche they carved in the milestones of exploration.

-On the use of robots to explore space - a technique favored by scientists, Armstrong said: "Man can be amused and amazed and a robot can be neither."

-On leaving footprints on the moon that will remain undisturbed for millenia, he said: "I had hoped that somebody goes up there some day and cleans them up."

-On how their lives were changed by their adventure, Armstrong said: "Before 1969, press conferences were much smaller."

-On whether the Apollo moon program was a stunt of little value, he said: "Even if it was a bad idea, I'm glad we did it."

Collins, who is writing his third book about space - this one about Mars - was asked why the nation seems to have lost its zest for space exploration.

He said the world of the 1980s is a different place than the 1960s when President John F. Kennedy could easily commit the nation to landing a man on the moon and arouse popular support.

"President Bush appears to be a president as dynamic as Kennedy," Collins said. "I think in today's climate he would have to say `I think we ought to dedicate ourselves to the goal . . . perhaps even including a mission to Mars.' "

Collins, who orbited the moon alone in the mother ship while Armstrong and Aldrin strolled on the Sea of Tranquillity, said America should continue its exploration of space.

"We're a nation of explorers," he said.