Legendary American astronauts mark 50th anniversary of Apollo space program

World Today

From left to right, Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, Amazon.com and Blue Origins founder Jeff Bezos, Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Jack Schmitt, and Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins listen as Apollo 7 astronaut Walt Cunningham speaks during the commemoration for the upcoming anniversary of the 1969 mission to the moon and a gala for Aldrin’s non-profit space education foundation, ShareSpace Foundation, at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Saturday, July 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Alex Sanz)

2017 marks 50 years since America’s Apollo spaceflight program began.

U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s goal of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth was reached in 1969 and 12 Apollo astronauts in all would walk on the moon.

Last week, eight NASA veterans from that era marked the anniversary at an air show in the state of Wisconsin.

CGTN’s Hendrik Sybrandy reports.

For those who closely followed America’s space exploits in the 1960s and 70s, the men who helped create a new form of aviation with Apollo’s space program still stand tall.

“It was basically a course in immersing yourself in a new industry,” claimed Frank Borman, an Apollo 8 astronaut.

They shared stories at the EAA AirVenture Oshkosh air show.

“We went to the moon to explore the moon and we discovered the earth,” Jim Lovell, who served on the Apollo 8 and 13 missions said.

They talked about an Apollo 11 moon landing that was never a sure thing.

Buzz Aldrin, an Apollo 11 astronaut, admitted, “The three of us felt that maybe there was a 60 percent chance that we would able to land successfully.”

They also talked about the near-tragic Apollo 13 mission that was memorialized in film.

All these years later, the bonds of this exclusive group forged through unforgettable missions are still strong.

One astronaut described Apollo as the last great flying club, and all things aviation is what this air show is all about. It’s a passion that is still going strong in the U.S.

“Aviators are a unique breed,” explained Gene Kranz, a former NASA flight director. “They basically step up to challenge. They accept risk.”

And yet these days, Walt Cunningham argues, society has become risk-averse.

“And I’m not against reducing risk,” said the Apollo 7 astronaut. “I just think that you have to have people that are willing to stick their necks out, or we’re not going to get very far out there.”

Several astronauts believe that one country—China—is prepared to assume the mantle the U.S. has long held.

Al Worden, an Apollo 15 astronaut, told college students recently that, “I firmly believe the Chinese will be the next people on the moon. When I said that, the two back rows in the auditorium stood up and cheered. They were all Chinese.”

Times have changed since these crew members were cooped up in cramped space capsules. Today, one astronaut said, kids are buried in their smartphones.

But these men, all in their 80’s now, are a link back to a time when man dared to push the envelope, dared to explore.