Four Moon Walkers Remain as America Celebrates 50th Anniversary of Apollo 11

Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin steps down the ladder to the surface of the moon. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

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.

The crew of Apollo 11: Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin. (Credit: NASA)

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.

Buzz Aldrin salutes during the singing of the National Anthem at the Spaceport America runway dedication. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

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.

The Apollo 8 crew stands in foreground as their Saturn V launch vehicle rolls out of the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Oct. 9, 1968. The Apollo 8 crew consists of, from the left, commander Frank Borman, command module pilot Jim Lovell and lunar module pilot Bill Anders. (Credits: NASA)

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.

Astronaut John Young salutes the flag on the moon during the Apollo 16 mission. (Credit: NASA)

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

Scientist-astronaut Owen K. Garriott, Skylab 3 science pilot, participates in the Aug. 6, 1973 extravehicular activity during which he and astronaut Jack Lousma, Skylab 3 pilot, deployed the twin pole solar shield to help shade the Orbital Workshop. (Credit: NASA)

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
MISSIONOBJECTIVES
CREW
BORNDIED
AGE
Apollo 1

Test command service module in Earth orbit; crew died in a flash fire that swept through the command module during a practice countdownVirgil I. “Gus” GrissomApril 3, 1926January 27, 1967d. 40
Edward WhiteOctober 14, 1930January 27, 1967d. 36
Roger ChaffeeFebruary 15, 1935January 27, 1967d. 31
Apollo 7
Oct. 11-22 1968
Test command service module in Earth orbitWally SchirraMarch 12, 1923May 3, 2007d. 84
Donn EiseleJune 23, 1930December 2, 1987d. 57
Walt CunninghamMarch 16, 193287
Apollo 8
Dec. 21-27 1968
First human voyage to the moon; 10 orbits above the lunar surfaceFrank BormanMarch 14, 192891
Jim LovellMarch 25, 192891
Bill AndersOctober 17, 193385
Apollo 9
March 3-13 1969
Test command service module and lunar module in Earth orbitJames A. McDivittJune 10, 192990
David R. ScottJune 6, 193287
Russell L. SchweickartOctober 25, 193583
Apollo 10
May 18-26 1969
Dress rehearsal for first human landing on the moon; lunar module flew within 50,000 feet of lunar surfaceTom StaffordSeptember 17, 193088
John YoungSeptember 24, 1930Jan. 5, 2018d. 87
Eugene CernanMarch 14, 1934Jan. 16, 2017d. 82
Apollo 11
July 16-24 1969
First manned moon landing on Sea of Tranquility; Armstrong and Aldrin spent more than two hours walking on the surfaceNeil ArmstrongAugust 5, 1930August 25, 2012d. 82
Buzz AldrinJanuary 20, 193089
Michael CollinsOctober 31, 193088
Apollo 12
Nov. 14-24 1969
Second manned landing on the moon; recovered part of Surveyor 3 landerCharles “Pete” ConradJune 2, 1930July 8, 1999d. 69
Alan BeanMarch 15, 1932May 26, 2018d. 86
Dick GordonOctober 5, 1929Nov. 6, 2017d. 88
Apollo 13
April 11-17 1970
Landing in Fra Mauro aborted due to explosion in service module oxygen tankJim LovellMarch 25, 192891
Fred HaiseNovember 14, 193385
Jack SwigertAugust 30, 1931December 27, 1982d. 51
Apollo 14
Jan. 31 – Feb. 9, 1971
Exploration of the Fra Mauro formationAlan ShepardNovember 18, 1923July 21, 1998d. 74
Edgar MitchellSeptember 17, 1930February 4, 2016d. 85
Stu RoosaAugust 16, 1933December 12, 1994d. 61
Apollo 15
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 moduleDavid ScottJune 6, 193287
James IrwinMarch 17, 1930August 8, 1991d. 61
Al WordenFebruary 7, 193287
Apollo 16
April 16-27 1972
Exploration of Descartes Highlands; Young and Duke spent more than 20 hours walking and driving on the surfaceJohn W. YoungSeptember 24, 1930Jan. 5, 2018d. 87
Charles DukeOctober 3, 193583
Ken MattinglyMarch 17, 193683
Apollo 17
Dec. 7-19 1972
Final manned moon mission; Cernan and Schmitt spent 22 hours outside the lunar module exploring Taurus-Littrow highlandsEugene CernanMarch 14, 1934Jan. 16, 2017d. 82
Harrison SchmittJuly 3, 193584
Ronald EvansNovember 10, 1933April 7, 1990d. 56
Skylab 2
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 experimentsPete ConradJune 2, 1930July 8, 1999d. 69
Joseph KerwinFebruary 19, 193287
Paul WeitzJuly 25, 1932October 22, 2017d. 85
Skylab 3
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 stationAlan BeanMarch 15, 1932May 26, 2018d. 86
Owen GarriottNovember 22, 1930April 15, 2019d. 88
Jack LousmaFebruary 29, 193683
Skylab 4
Nov. 16, 1973 – Feb. 8, 1974

Third and final crew set new duration record of 84 days; continued experiments begun by first two crewsGerald CarrAugust 22, 193286
Edward GibsonNovember 8, 193682
William PogueJanuary 23, 1930March 3, 2014d. 84
Apollo-
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 irregularityTom StaffordSeptember 17, 193088
Vance BrandMay 9, 193188
Deke SlaytonMarch 1, 1924June 13, 1993d. 69