The American space agency NASA is organizing several events to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 – the mission that first put a man on the moon.
Recently, three astronauts who were part of the space program in the 1960s and 1970s gathered at the Paris Air Show to talk about their own experiences.
Walter Cunningham, 87, was part of the Apollo 7 mission. Al Worden, 87, flew with Apollo 15 and Charlie Duke, 83, walked on the moon with Apollo 16.
Worden orbited the moon alone for days in 1971. He holds the record of having been the world’s most isolated human. Cunningham was part of a team that, in 1968, tried to go against orders from Mission Control. The team members asked if they could reenter the atmosphere without their helmets. They were told “no” and were not permitted to go on future flights.
Still, Cunningham remembers his experiences with great pride.
“Five hundred years from now there is only going to be one thing they remember about Apollo, and that is that man landed on the moon,” he told the crowd at the air show.
“People will have no idea how hard it was, for example, to get the first Apollo mission off. Apollo 7 was the fifth mission that Wally Schirra, Donn Eisele and I were on, and finally we flew.”
NASA developed space flight in the 1960s, during the United States’ race against the Soviet Union to dominate space. The race came with serious dangers.
In 1967, the Apollo 1 mission caught fire and burned up on the launch pad during a test. The crew was killed. NASA stopped all piloted flights while it redesigned the Command Module and the spacesuits.
In October 1968, Apollo 7 was permitted to launch. It was the first piloted test of the Command Module.
Only 12 people have ever walked on the moon. Charlie Duke was a part of the Apollo 16 mission in 1972. At age 36, he became the youngest person to walk on the moon.
“It’s like ‘well I’m home, I know where to go, I know what’s over here’,” he said of the experience.
“It was a feeling of belonging, but it was also wonder, awe, and excitement…That was the most exciting moment in my life,” he said.
Apollo 11, the mission that brought Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon, touched down on July 20, 1969.
I’m Susan Shand.
The Reuters News Agency reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
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Words in This Story
pride - n. a feeling of happiness that you get when you or someone you know does something good
pad – n. a flat area on the ground where helicopters can take off or land
module - n. a part of a space vehicle that can work alone
awe – n. a strong feeling of fear or respect and also wonder