by Douglas Messier
Fifty years ago today, three astronauts set off on the journey of a lifetime to make the first human landing on the moon. Twelve men would walk on the lunar surface, collect rocks and soil samples, and drive electric cars before the Apollo program ended in December 1972.
As the United States marks the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s historic first lunar landing on July 20, four of the 12 men who walked on the surface and eight others who flew around the moon are alive to celebrate it.
That list includes Buzz Aldrin, 89, who walked on the surface along side Neil Armstrong half a century ago. Crew mate Michael Collins, 88, who orbited overhead in the command service module (CSM), has been participating in celebrations this week.
Armstrong did not live to see the world mark his historic first step on the lunar surface. The Apollo 11 commander passed away in 2012 at the age of 82.
Aldrin remains active today by making public appearances, giving talks and promoting STEM education through his non-profit foundation. He has been the most visible of the Apollo veterans in recent years, frequently urging NASA to again send astronauts on deep-space missions.
Collins has been doing interviews in advance of the anniversary. He also recently joined Twitter, where he has been answering questions from the public. Collins’ acclaimed memoir of his astronaut career, Carrying the Fire, was recently re-released in a 50th anniversary edition.
Three other astronauts who walked on the moon are alive today: David Scott, 87, of Apollo 15; Charles Duke, 83, of Apollo 16; and Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, 84, of Apollo 17.
In addition to Collins, two other command module pilots who orbited the moon during the six Apollo landings are still with us. Al Worden of Apollo 16 is 87 years old, and Ken Mattingly of Apollo 16 is 83.
Command module pilots from the other three landing missions — Richard Gordon (Apollo 12), Stuart Roosa (Apollo 14) and Ronald Evans (Apollo 17) — have passed away.
All three crew members of Apollo 8, who were the first to orbit the moon are alive to celebrate the moon landing anniversary. Frank Borman and Jim Lovell are both 91 years old. Bill Anders is 85.
Lovell also flew around the moon on the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission after an oxygen tank explosion forced the crew to abort the planned landing. Crew mate Fred Haise is 85. The third member of the crew, Jack Swigert, passed away in 1982.
Tom Stafford, who commanded a dress rehearsal for the first moon landing aboard Apollo 10, is 88 years old. His crew mates, John Young and Eugene Cernan, have both passed away.
Young and Cernan walked on the moon during the Apollo 16 and 17 missions, respectively. Cernan was the last man to step off the lunar surface in December 1972.
Apollo 9 is the only other mission other than Apollo 8 where all the crew members are still alive. Scott and his two crew mates — James McDivitt, 90, and Russell “Rusty” Schweickart, 83 — tested the CSM and the lunar module in Earth orbit.
Walter Cunningham, 87, is the lone survivor from Apollo 7, the first manned Apollo mission that tested the CM in Earth orbit. Donn Eisele passed away in 1987 and Walter “Wally” Schirra died 20 years later.
The nation has lost three full Apollo crews. Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee died in January 1967 when a flash fire swept through their capsule during a ground test.
The crew of Apollo 12 — Charles “Pete” Conrad, Alan Bean and Gordon — has passed away. Alan Shepard, Edgar Mitchell and Roosa of Apollo 14 have also left us.
Post Lunar Apollo Missions
Following the moon landings, there were four missions that used Apollo hardware: three flights to the Skylab space station and the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, which featured the first docking between crewed American and Soviet spacecraft.
Four of the nine Skylab astronauts are still with us: Joseph Kerwin, 87, of Skylab 2; Jack Lousma, 83, of Skylab 3; and Gerald Carr, 86, and Edward Gibson, 82, both of Skylab 4.
Kerwin’s Skylab 2 crew mates — Conrad and Paul Weitz — have passed away. Bean and Owen Garriott of Skylab 3 have died, as has William Pogue of Skylab 4.
Stafford and Vance Brand, who are both 88, remain from the Apollo-Soyuz mission. Donald “Deke” Slayton, who was one of the Original 7 astronauts, passed away in 1993 at the age of 69.
A table showing the Apollo era missions is below.
|APOLLO, SKYLAB & APOLLO-SOYUZ MISSIONS|
|Apollo 1||Test command service module in Earth orbit; crew died in a flash fire that swept through the command module during a practice countdown||Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom||April 3, 1926||January 27, 1967||d. 40|
|Edward White||October 14, 1930||January 27, 1967||d. 36|
|Roger Chaffee||February 15, 1935||January 27, 1967||d. 31|
Oct. 11-22 1968
|Test command service module in Earth orbit||Wally Schirra||March 12, 1923||May 3, 2007||d. 84|
|Donn Eisele||June 23, 1930||December 2, 1987||d. 57|
|Walt Cunningham||March 16, 1932||—||87|
Dec. 21-27 1968
|First human voyage to the moon; 10 orbits above the lunar surface||Frank Borman||March 14, 1928||—||91|
|Jim Lovell||March 25, 1928||—||91|
|Bill Anders||October 17, 1933||—||85|
March 3-13 1969
|Test command service module and lunar module in Earth orbit||James A. McDivitt||June 10, 1929||—||90|
|David R. Scott||June 6, 1932||—||87|
|Russell L. Schweickart||October 25, 1935||—||83|
May 18-26 1969
|Dress rehearsal for first human landing on the moon; lunar module flew within 50,000 feet of lunar surface||Tom Stafford||September 17, 1930||—||88|
|John Young||September 24, 1930||Jan. 5, 2018||d. 87|
|Eugene Cernan||March 14, 1934||Jan. 16, 2017||d. 82|
July 16-24 1969
|First manned moon landing on Sea of Tranquility; Armstrong and Aldrin spent more than two hours walking on the surface||Neil Armstrong||August 5, 1930||August 25, 2012||d. 82|
|Buzz Aldrin||January 20, 1930||—||89|
|Michael Collins||October 31, 1930||—||88|
Nov. 14-24 1969
|Second manned landing on the moon; recovered part of Surveyor 3 lander||Charles “Pete” Conrad||June 2, 1930||July 8, 1999||d. 69|
|Alan Bean||March 15, 1932||May 26, 2018||d. 86|
|Dick Gordon||October 5, 1929||Nov. 6, 2017||d. 88|
April 11-17 1970
|Landing in Fra Mauro aborted due to explosion in service module oxygen tank||Jim Lovell||March 25, 1928||—||91|
|Fred Haise||November 14, 1933||—||85|
|Jack Swigert||August 30, 1931||December 27, 1982||d. 51|
Jan. 31 – Feb. 9, 1971
|Exploration of the Fra Mauro formation||Alan Shepard||November 18, 1923||July 21, 1998||d. 74|
|Edgar Mitchell||September 17, 1930||February 4, 2016||d. 85|
|Stu Roosa||August 16, 1933||December 12, 1994||d. 61|
July 28 – Aug. 7, 1971
|Exploration of Hadley Rille; first use of the lunar rover; Worden made first deep space walk to retrieve film from the service module||David Scott||June 6, 1932||—||87|
|James Irwin||March 17, 1930||August 8, 1991||d. 61|
|Al Worden||February 7, 1932||—||87|
April 16-27 1972
|Exploration of Descartes Highlands; Young and Duke spent more than 20 hours walking and driving on the surface||John W. Young||September 24, 1930||Jan. 5, 2018||d. 87|
|Charles Duke||October 3, 1935||—||83|
|Ken Mattingly||March 17, 1936||—||83|
Dec. 7-19 1972
|Final manned moon mission; Cernan and Schmitt spent 22 hours outside the lunar module exploring Taurus-Littrow highlands||Eugene Cernan||March 14, 1934||Jan. 16, 2017||d. 82|
|Harrison Schmitt||July 3, 1935||—||84|
|Ronald Evans||November 10, 1933||April 7, 1990||d. 56|
May 25 – June 22 1973
|First U.S. space station crew; set new space duration record of 28 days; during launch, Skylab damaged with one solar panel torn off, another trapped against the ship by debris; crew freed the solar panel and spread a parasol over area where micrometeorite/ heat shield had been torn off; astronauts completed many of planned experiments||Pete Conrad||June 2, 1930||July 8, 1999||d. 69|
|Joseph Kerwin||February 19, 1932||—||87|
|Paul Weitz||July 25, 1932||October 22, 2017||d. 85|
July 28 – Sept. 25 1973
|Second U.S. space station crew set new space duration record of 59 days; conducted experiments on human body’s adaptation in space, observed sun using powerful space telescopes; placed second shield over parasol to protect station||Alan Bean||March 15, 1932||May 26, 2018||d. 86|
|Owen Garriott||November 22, 1930||April 15, 2019||d. 88|
|Jack Lousma||February 29, 1936||—||83|
Nov. 16, 1973 – Feb. 8, 1974
|Third and final crew set new duration record of 84 days; continued experiments begun by first two crews||Gerald Carr||August 22, 1932||—||86|
|Edward Gibson||November 8, 1936||—||82|
|William Pogue||January 23, 1930||March 3, 2014||d. 84|
Soyuz Test Project
July 15-24 1975
|First joint docking of American and Soviet spacecraft in orbit; first and only spaceflight for Deke Slayton, one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts who had been grounded due to a heart irregularity||Tom Stafford||September 17, 1930||—||88|
|Vance Brand||May 9, 1931||—||88|
|Deke Slayton||March 1, 1924||June 13, 1993||d. 69|