Earlier this week, Eyewitness News Anchor Dave Ward sat down with four NASA legends:
Colonel Buzz Aldrin. On July 20, 1969, he and Neil Armstrong became the first two men to step foot on the moon.
Captain Alan Bean. The fourth person to ever walk on the moon.
Captain Jim Lovell. Commander of Apollo 13, known as the most successful failure in NASA history. Lovell was played by Tom Hanks in the movie, "Apollo 13."
Captain Gene Cernan. The last man on the moon as commander of Apollo 17.
They are the space pioneers. When the nation was riveted by the idea of American astronauts traveling through space, their story was one of excitement, romance, even sheer celebrity.
It was a rare occasion to have four such notable space travelers together. This week, it was the fight to find a cure for cancer that brought them to a benefit for the Texas Children's Cancer Center. They talked about the past and the future of NASA.
Dave Ward: Tell me if you could, what do you guys represent?
Capt. Jim Lovell: Well, accomplishment number one, because we said what we were going to do and we did it.
Capt. Gene Cernan: I think we were the tip of the arrow, you know, we had our pictures in the paper and all that kind of stuff, but the strength, the shaft, the guidance of the failures were the people, the thousands of people who you've never heard of.
Ward: They tell me that the computer in my car had more capability than what you had in Apollo 11.
Col. Buzz Aldrin: We got a heck of a lot out of each and every bit that was in that computer. Cernan: The technology of Apollo is obsolete, overshadowed by time. You got more technology in the palm of your hand than we had to land on the moon.
Ward: Well it's been 40 years now since that first landing on the moon. Are you surprised at how far we've come or how far we have yet to go?
Capt. Alan Bean: Well I've been surprised that we haven't done more because I go out to NASA quite often, Johnson Space Center and I see the people there, they want to do more. They've got the same glint in their eye that we had. They just don't have the money to do it.
Lovell: Look at the economic situation right now. I mean we're printing money like it's going out of style and it's going for everything else.
Cernan: But Jim, the space program cost every tax payer in this country one penny out of our tax dollar, not trillions of dollars. You tell me we can't afford one penny out of our tax dollars to put a program together to go back to the moon?
Ward: Do you feel like the American people have lost the fascination with space travel?
Lovell: No, no I don't think so.
Cernan: They have not. We have a generation of 30 and 40-year-olds who weren't born when Neil and Buzz walked on the moon, or at best were in diapers and knee pants when I made the final steps. I think it's a latent support and passion that they're waiting for us to do something exciting.
And that wait may be a while as NASA is retiring the space shuttle next year and replacing it with a two vehicle system. They will launch separately. One will carry cargo, one will carry passengers and they'll unite in space.
It's a total revamp of space travel and it'll mean at least a decade before American astronauts return to the moon again.
Aldrin: You know how long it took us to get to the moon from Kitty Hawk? 66 years. Add 66 to 1969, and you get 2035. Don't you think we ought to have human beings, Americans on the surface of Mars by 2035?
Cernan: No question in my mind we're going to go to Mars. I can't tell you when, but I can tell you it'll be an international venture. I may not be around to be proved wrong, but that's what I believe.
Ward: What was your favorite moon food?
Cernan: Oh god, it was horrible.
Bean: I'll tell you mine. My favorite food on earth.
Cernan: Spaghetti. Spaghetti. How did we know that!"
Bean: We had some number of food items you could select from cause they were pasteurized, didn't have any germs and all that stuff, one of them was spaghetti. I wanted to be the first person to eat spaghetti on the moon and I was worried that Buzz and Neil would eat it, but they didn't, thank god. It tasted so bad.
Aldrin: How about some hot coffee?
Cernan: The things we take for granted on this earth, brush your teeth and have a hot cup of coffee, we didn't have that on the lunar surface.
Lovell: You guys are lucky. I just had a frozen hot dog and no coffee.
Bean: How about just some heat!
Ward: Maybe in future space flights, we'll have hot coffee.
You might recall that Jim Lovell and his fellow Apollo 13 astronauts had no heat at all. They were practically frozen in space for 13 days.
The actual 40th anniversary of the first manned landing on the moon is July 20th. In the coming months, we'll be taking a much closer look at space travel, both then and now.