Earth rise over lunar surface. Credit: NASA

Missions, NASA

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

20 Jul , 2009 by

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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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ND
Member
ND
July 20, 2009 10:16 AM

And by telescopes I hope they meant radio instead of optical.

Jorge
Member
Jorge
July 20, 2009 11:37 AM
This is the same old story. We all know the names of Alexander Fleming and Louis Pasteur, but who can name one contemporary microbiologist? If you’re not in the field yourself, odds are you can’t. I surely can’t. It’s always like this in science: pioneers are remembered and their names taught in school, but the people who do the vast majority of work over the years is usually as anonymous to the larger public as any of us. Why would space be any different? I agree that there should be ways to wake up the passion for space in today’s young people. Of course. But I have very serious doubts that a fruitless act of propaganda is the… Read more »
Torbjorn Larsson OM
Member
Torbjorn Larsson OM
July 20, 2009 12:40 PM
Jorge, that’s thought provoking, and one rationale surely. But robot missions should give a diminished ROI after plucking the low hanging fruit. To go to the Moon and find Earth ejecta from before our plate tectonics erased the historical record, or to go to Mars and look for potential fossil traces in the right places, the fastest method should be manned missions. I’m eager to know these things sooner rather than later, early planetary conditions and conditions for life, complementing the larger search for habitable and inhabited worlds. I’m sure there are plenty more complex issues like this. The medium cost strategy would be to send robot corers to Europa, Enceladus or possibly Titan to look for easy… Read more »
Astrofiend
Member
Astrofiend
July 20, 2009 4:49 PM
I can’t see a manned Mars mission occurring for at least 40 years. No politicians these days seem to have any semblance of vision – they barely commit to projects beyond the current election cycle that aren’t in their direct interest. The most visionary thing they try to come up with at the moment is flaccid attempts at forging peace in the middle east. Yeah right – any time now. Compounding the fact that the world is run by visionless lawyers and businessmen is the horror of USA’s mind-boggling national debt and deficit – numbers so damn big that they look like they belong in astronomy textbooks. The only possible direction for NASA funding in south, in a… Read more »
Manu
Member
Manu
July 20, 2009 5:44 PM

“The astronauts seemed all over the map about the International Space Station as well, with some questioning its usefulness to science and its expense…”
I like that! wink

sl2561
Member
sl2561
July 21, 2009 8:46 AM

This is all very interesting. I found this article that talks about the future of the space program, and I think it’s worth checking out:
http://www.flypmedia.com/issues/33/#1/2

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