Fifty years after Moon mission, Apollo astronauts meet at historic launchpad

CAPE CANAVERAL (AFP) – Fifty years ago yesterday, three American astronauts set off from Florida for the Moon on a mission that would change the way we see humanity’s place in the universe.

The crew’s surviving members, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, reunited at the same launchpad yesterday, the start of a week-long series of events commemorating Apollo 11.

Their commander and the first man on the Moon, Neil Armstrong, passed away in 2012.

But Aldrin and Collins, 89 and 88 respectively, met yesterday at precisely 9.32am at the Kennedy Space Center’s pad 39A to kick off the festivities.

Their spacecraft took four days to reach the Moon, before its lunar module, known as ‘Eagle’, touched the lunar surface on July 20, 1969. Armstrong emerged a few hours later.

Collins remained in lunar orbit in the command module Columbia, their only means of returning back to Earth.

“They knew, I knew, if they couldn’t get off for some reason there was nothing I could do about it,” he told reporters in New York in May as part of a series of events.

This March 30, 1969 photo made available by NASA shows the crew of the Apollo 11, from left, Neil Armstrong, commander; Michael Collins, module pilot; Edwin E ‘Buzz’ Aldrin, lunar module pilot. Apollo 11 was the first manned mission to the surface of the moon. – AP

“I had no landing gear on Columbia, I could not go down and rescue them.”

Aldrin has remained relatively more elusive but has also taken part in a few events, including a gala dinner last Saturday where the cheapest ticket cost USD1,000.

Ageing but active on Twitter, and always seen in stars-and-stripes socks, Aldrin has faced health scares and family feuds, culminating in a court case over finances, which was settled in March.

Yesterday, he was the undeniable star of the show, as the second man to have stepped foot on the Moon. Only four of the 12 men who have done so remain alive.

Despite the festivities, neither the United States (US) nor any other country has managed to return a human to the Moon since 1972, the year of the final Apollo mission.

US President George Bush promised to do so in 1989, as did his son president George W Bush in 2004, while pledging to also march forward to Mars.

But they both ran up against a Congress that wasn’t inclined to fund the adventures, with public opinion markedly changed since the height of the Cold War.