On the evening of Saturday, March 21, guests enjoyed a unique celebration at the San Diego Air & Space Museum, which joined a variety of astronauts and aerospace figures from different eras encompassing the earliest days of U.S. space exploration to modern day spaceflight. Following a reception and dinner, attendees were treated to a panel discussion featuring a bevy of Gemini and Apollo astronauts, including Apollo 13’s Jim Lovell and Fred Haise. The two astronauts (along with John L. “Jack” Swigert, who passed away in 1982) survived what is famously described as NASA’s “successful failure,” returning home safely after their spacecraft was crippled by an explosion on the way to the Moon in April 1970.
However, their survival was also due in large part to the ground controllers, support crew, and thousands of workers brainstorming around-the-clock on the ground. The event was well-attended, featuring ground controllers Gene Kranz, Glynn Lunney, Milt Windler, Sy Liebergot, and Gerry Griffin. In addition, astronauts including Bill Anders, Al Worden, Joe Engle, Gene Cernan, Walt Cunningham, Charlie Duke, and Jack Lousma participated.
The museum’s Gordon Permann underscored the historical significance of Apollo 13’s mission in an article previewing the event last week in AmericaSpace: “I think their triumph with be the stuff of legends hundreds of years from now, an epic rivaling Gilgamesh, the Charge of the Light Brigade, etc. Plus, when this generation passes away, there will be no direct living connection to the lunar landings … [There is a] possibility that the ‘signal to noise’ ratio will begin to drown out the actual events with mountains of conspiracy theories. For as long as we have access to these historic figures, we owe it to them and to ourselves to honor them, and revel in their victory.”
This event begins a year of milestone spaceflight anniversaries, including today’s 50th anniversary of Gemini 3, the first U.S. two-man mission. On Saturday, April 11, Apollo 13 festivities will continue as the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF) will hold its own sold-out 45th anniversary event at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex’s Apollo/Saturn V Center.
All photos by Robert C. Fisher / AmericaSpace.