On Apollo 11’s 40th, Astronauts Reflect on Space Program

by Anne Minard on July 20, 2009

Earth rise over lunar surface. Credit: NASA

Earth rise over lunar surface. Credit: NASA

Seven Apollo astronauts gathered at NASA headquarters this morning to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11’s lunar landing — on July 20, 1969.

“This is really a national celebration,” said James Lovell, who flew on Apollo 8 and 13. “This is really a celebration for all the people who helped Neil and Buzz and Mike” make the trip to the moon, he said.

But the press conference was bittersweet, as all of the astronauts seemed to agree the space program has not gone where they hoped it would, in the years since that pinnacle of achievement. “I don’t think there was a soul in NASA that wouldn’t have thought we would have been on Mars by the year 2000,” said Walt Cunningham, from Apollo 7.

Among the astronauts, there seemed to be seven different opinions about how to get back on track.

Eugene Cernan, from Apollo 10 and 17, advocated going back to the moon, setting up bases and new telescopes. “The ultimate goal is truly to go to Mars,” he said.

Charles Duke from Apollo 16 says we need to develop better space suits. “Lunar dust, I think, is going to be a real problem,” he said, adding that air locks shoudl be developed to keep lunar dust outside any living quarters.

Buzz Aldrin has different notions altogether: “Why not do those [projects] at the space station?” he mused. “Prolong the life of the space station. We put 100 billion into the space station.” Aldrin questions the rationale that going back to the moon is a logical next step to Mars, since the physical environment on Mars will be different.

The astronauts seemed all over the map about the International Space Station as well, with some questioning its usefulness to science and its expense, and others optimistic that its glory days haven’t yet begun.

Several of the astronauts pointed out that Mars exploration has hit a new and encouraging stride, but all of them also seem to agree that space exploration needs a shot in the arm in terms of both funding, and the will of the people — especially young people.

“Everyone knows who John Glenn is, Neil Armstrong … I defy almost every one in this room to name one or two or three members on the space station today,” Cernan said. “We need to re-inspire that kind of spirit in the minds and hearts — the passion — of these kids.”

Other Universe Today Apollo 11 40th anniversary stories:

Book Review: Magnificent Desolation, by Buzz AldrinHow to Handle Moon Rocks and Lunar Bugs: A Personal History of Apollo’s Lunar Receiving LabQ & A with Apollo 11 Astronaut Michael CollinsLRO Images Apollo Landing Sites (w00t!)NASA Laments Missing Apollo 11 Film, Makes Do With What’s Left; And finally, the treasure trove: Apollo 11 Anniversary Link-O-Rama

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