July 16, 2019, marked exactly 50 years since the first-ever human set foot on the moon. It’s one of humanity’s most incredible events which changed the course of history and affected and inspired many. However, many wonder what happened to the astronauts after they returned home! Read on to discover where the Apollo 11 crew are today and what they’ve been up to since that fateful mission 50 years ago…
A Historic Astronauts Reunion
Although its been five decades, the Apollo 11 continues to inspire and intrigue. This month, the last remaining moon landing tapes went up for auction. Meanwhile, members from many of the Apollo missions, including 11, met at the Explorer’s Club in New York City for an incredible photoshoot. Astronauts from Apollo missions 7, 8, 13, 15, 16, and 17, as well as Apollo 11 crew members Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins, sat for the historic photo above.
Aldrin recalled some of the moon landing experience, saying, “we did not know the instant of leaving the ground. We only knew it from the instruments and voice communications which confirmed liftoff. We sort of looked at each other and thought, ‘We must be on our way.'”
Collins added, “We, [the] crew, felt the weight of the world on our shoulders. We knew that everyone would be looking at us, friend or foe, and we wanted to do the best we possibly could.” However, after the photo came out, many could not help but wonder: what happened to the Apollo 11 astronauts after they returned home?
An Ohio native, Neil Armstrong first served his country during the Korean War, as a pilot. Afterward, moved on to NASA and, as we all know, commanded the Apollo 11 crew to the moon. Following the mission, Armstrong received the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Nixon (1969). Later, President Carter presented Armstrong with the Congressional Space Medal of Honor in 1978. Finally, in 2009, Armstrong and the rest of his crew members earned a Congressional Gold Medal. Also, many Hall of Fames inducted Armstrong, including the National Aviation Hall of Fame.
Sadly, the international hero passed away in 2012 due to complications after having surgery to treat coronary disease. The government issued a statement following his death, saying Armstrong was “among the greatest of American heroes – not just of his time, but of all time.” As one might imagine, when the 50th anniversary came around, many turned their thoughts to Armstrong’s legacy.
Born and raised in New Jersey, Buzz Aldrin also served as a pilot during the Korean War. He joined NASA in 1962, and in 1969 joined the Apollo 11 crew. He became the second human to walk on the mooning, calling the view “beautiful desolation.” Aldrin was also an unlikely savior on the trip, famously fixing a broken switch by using a felt-tip instead. Had he not, the astronauts would have likely been stranded on the moon!
After retiring from NASA, Aldrin became the head of the USAF Aerospace Research Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base. In later years, he also became a huge advocate for the mission to Mars and published several opinion pieces in major newspapers like The New York Times. These days, Aldrin resides in Florida.
Fun fact – the character Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story is named in honor of Aldrin!
Just like his fellow astronauts, Michael Collins also served as a fighter pilot before joining NASA and the Apollo 11 crew. While Armstrong and Aldrin physically touched the surface of the moon, Collins commanded the spaceship, orbiting around the moon, alone. In his memoir, Collins wrote, “This venture has been structured for three men, and I consider my third to be as necessary as either of the other two.”
After retiring from NASA, Collins learned the Secretary of State Public Affairs wanted to appoint him as Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs. Collins accepted and helped the government through hard times during the Vietnam War. Then, Collins went on to become head of the National Air and Space Museum; later on, undersecretary of the Smithsonian Institution, and then the vice president of LTV Aerospace. Collins has also been publishing fiction and non-fiction books for adults and kids about his space experience!