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Apollo legends mingle at San Diego museum gala

Apollo legends

Eight men from the Apollo Program, comprising four astronauts, three flight controllers, and an engineer, at the San Diego Air and Space Museum. From left to right: Apollo 15 astronaut Al Worden, flight controller Glynn Lunney, Apollo 7 astronaut Walt Cunningham, Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, Apollo 16 astronaut Charlie Duke, flight controller Gerry Griffin, engineer Bob Cuervo, and flight controller Milt Windler.
Photo Credit: Matthew Kuhns / SpaceFlight Insider

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — It was a star-studded gala Thursday evening when more than 450 guests, four Apollo astronauts, and three Apollo flight controllers and an engineer attended an event at the San Diego Air and Space Museum. The reception was held in the museum where guests could talk to the astronauts next to the Apollo 9 capsule, while the dinner was held under the historic aircraft on display in the Pavilion of Flight.

SpaceFlight Insider spoke with Apollo 16 astronaut Charlie Duke as well as Apollo 15 astronaut Al Worden. They expressed gratitude to the San Diego Air and Space Museum for holding this event. Worden proclaimed the facility as, “…one of the premier museums in the country.”

Gala under aircraft

Photo Credit: Matthew Kuhns / SpaceFlight Insider

While reminiscing about the Apollo days, Duke said his favorite memories were lifting off in the Saturn V, landing on the Moon, and then re-entry. He said landing on the Moon was incredibly dynamic.

“The photographs we studied had 45 feet resolution, and there’s a lot of things on the Moon less than 45 feet that can get you in trouble,” Duke told SFI. Later in the evening, during the panel discussion, he regaled guests about how their lander, Orion, missed landing in a crater by only a few feet.

“The thing I think about most in the program is the cooperation, the closeness of the crews with the ground people like mission control, the relationships we have with all of those people,” Worden said.

Discussing the importance of testing, the Apollo 11 landing came up—specifically the “1202 alarm” during lunar descent. During that mission, Duke served as Capcom at Mission Control.

“They thought they’d tested everything, and on the descent, we started having a computer overload problem,” Duke said explaining that, later on, ground teams had figured out that it was caused because the rendezvous radar switch was on.

“Well, they flew it in the simulator that way, but the rendezvous radar wasn’t hooked up in the simulator, so it didn’t ever show up in training,” Duke said.

When asked what advice he would give today’s generation of engineers working on the space program, Buzz Aldrin, the second human on the Moon, told Spaceflight Insider, “[T]hings have to be creative, innovative, get the most out of everything you have. That means testing things, but you test them in operational situations.”

“The thing that comes back every time I reflect on Apollo is the team effort that we had,” Gerry Griffin, NASA flight director and director of Johnson Space Center, said about his memories of the Moon program. “We were a bunch of young people, but we had the teamwork. The other part that I think about is the leadership we had was so good.”

Talking about the differences in the space program today compared to Apollo, Griffin said the unified goal and direction of the country was obvious and hopes the United States can find a similar goal now.

“NASA is really working hard at it, they are very, very bright people and I hope there is a policy we can get that the country will stick with and not keep changing,” Griffin said.

Also in attendance were aviation greats Robert Hoover and Robert Cardenas.

Gene Cernan was scheduled to attend but had to cancel at the last minute due to health reasons. He was able to send a video message, which was played during dinner, and included a gift to the museum: an image of himself with Neil Armstrong and Robert Hoover.

Apollo astronauts mingle

Buzz Aldrin and other Apollo astronauts talk one-on-one with people at the San Diego Air and Space Museum event. Photo Credit: Matthew Kuhns / SpaceFlight Insider


Matthew Kuhns is an aerospace engineer living in California and enjoys capturing the beauty of the aerospace world with his camera. As an engineer he specializes in fuel & propulsion systems and as a photographer his internationally award-winning images are published in magazines and books. Kuhns was introduced to the founder of SpaceFlight Insider during the pre launch activities for SpaceX’s CRS-4 mission and was promptly brought on to the team as SFI’s California photographer.

Reader Comments

Please identify the astronauts from left to right. Thanks,
James A. Henrie

Mr. Henrie,
At your request, the lead image caption has been updated with the individuals’ names.
Ivan Simic, SFI copy-editor.

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