It was 48 years ago today (July 20) that the first human landing on the moon took place — the seminal space voyage of Apollo 11 that saw Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk across the lunar landscape.
That signature event was saluted last weekend at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida — a gala that was hosted by Aldrin, the Apollo 11 lunar module pilot.
Aldrin was joined on stage by Apollo 11 command module pilot Michael Collins, Walt Cunningham of 1968's Apollo 7 mission and Harrison "Jack” Schmitt of Apollo 17 — the last crewed expedition to the moon, in December 1972. [NASA's Historic Apollo 11 Moon Landing in Pictures]
On Saturday (July 15), Aldrin rolled out a "red carpet for the Red Planet" to commemorate 48 years since Apollo 11's moon landing on July 20, 1969, and also to start the countdown to the Apollo 11 50th anniversary, in 2019.
The gathering was held under the historic Apollo Saturn V rocket at KSC.
The fashionable, star-studded gala was held to raise funds for Buzz Aldrin's nonprofit ShareSpace Foundation, which undertakes programs that will drive education and help develop the next generation of space innovators who will lead humanity to future habitation of Mars.
"I've been planning Mars missions for decades with my Cycling Pathways to Mars concept to create a permanent human settlement on Mars," Aldrin said. "We left a plaque on the moon that said ‘We Came in Peace for All Mankind' … that was the spirit of Apollo, and the spirit I want to carry on to Mars.”
With the 50th anniversary just around the corner, Aldrin said that "now is the time to remind the world that we can achieve ‘the impossible' again" — if we inspire the public through science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics (STEAM) education, he added.
Silent, live auctions
At the July 15 event, Aldrin oversaw the auctioning of some unique lots donated by pioneers in the worlds of space, polar and aviation exploration.
Highly collectible memorabilia included a "first day cover" (a sort of postcard) that was signed by all three Apollo 11 crewmembers, and flew to the surface of the moon; a signed,framed sample of Kapton foil from the Apollo 11 command module; and a signed, boxed OMEGA Speedmaster "Moonwatch." Also grabbing high-stepping dollars were the shoes worn by Buzz Aldrin on the TV show "Dancing with the Stars."
Significant funds were raised to inspire and enable future generations to make scientific advancements that could lead to humans living on Mars: $57,838 from a silent auction, and $134,950 from the live auction.
The Apollo 11 gala event was the first part of an ambitious three-year fund-raising campaign devised by the ShareSpace Foundation. That campaign culminates in the summer of 2019 with a number of global activities staged to coincide with the Apollo 11 50th anniversary.
In the past year, the ShareSpace Foundation gifted 100 "Giant Mars Maps" all over the United States and internationally to schools and education centers, enabling students to discover Mars firsthand via an interactive floor map depicting the topography of Mars, as well as the landing locations of NASA's Mars robots.
For more information on ShareSpace, visit: www.sharespace.org
Leonard David is author of "Mars: Our Future on the Red Planet," published by National Geographic. The book is a companion to the National Geographic Channel series "Mars." A longtime writer for Space.com, David has been reporting on the space industry for more than five decades. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. This version of the story was published on Space.com.