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Gala opens countdown to the 50th anniversary of the 1st moon landing



CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) – Former NASA astronaut Buzz Aldrin was noticeably absent at a gala that celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing for a year, though his nonprofit Space Foundation is a sponsor, typically the main attraction ,

No explanation was given for Aldrin's absence from the Apollo Celebration Gala on Saturday night. But the former astronaut is involved in a legal dispute with family members who say he is suffering from mental deterioration. The Black Tie event, held under a Saturn V rocket at the Kennedy Space Center, featured a panel discussion of astronauts, an award ceremony and an auction of space memorabilia.

Hundreds of people attended the sold-out event British physicist Brian Cox, who presented the Innovation Award of the ShareSpace Foundation to the founder of Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson

Branson, whose company develops a new generation of commercial spacecraft, said in a video that influenced the Apollo missions generation] "The room is still hard, really heavy, it's still important," Branson said. "There would be no Virgin Galactic, no Virgin Orbit, and no Spaceship Company if Apollo astronauts and thousands of talented humans had not made their mission possible."

Dr. Carolyn Williams of the charitable organization From One Hand To AnOTHER received the Foundation's Education Award, and former Johnson Space Center director Gerry Griffin, flight director for all manned Apollo missions, was honored with the Pioneer Award

"It is very humiliating, it somehow came out of the blue, "Griffin said. "It's so nice to know that we've passed the torch this next generation will take us to this next step."

The next step, Griffin said, is a return of the Americans to the Moon, and finally Mars – something that former Apollo astronauts Walt Cunningham, Harrison Schmitt, Rusty Schweickart and Tom Stafford discussed during a conversation with Cox.

"We're going through a second door here, the door is not open – we did not go all the way through – but it's cracked," said Schweickart, who was piloting the lunar module on Apollo 9, the Associated Press. "Space will be much cheaper, and that will not only open up opportunities for people to fly, but because of the reduced cost, real opportunities for innovators to generate new ideas and do things that have never been done before."

Aldrins ShareSpace Foundation is one of the sponsors of the annual gala, which raises money for science, technology, engineering, art and math – or STEAM education – and scholarships for astronaut scholarships.

Renowned Brazilian pop artist Romero Britto donated works of art from his "Buzz Aldrin Space Series" to the auction, including a behind-the-scenes tour of Virgin Galactic in California and autographed space memorabilia. Tickets for the event ranged from $ 750 to $ 2,500 per person.

The presumed absence of the former astronaut comes just one month after he sued two of his adult children and a former business executive, accusing them of abusing his credit cards and making money from one and maligning him by saying he has dementia. Just weeks before the lawsuit, Andrew and Jan Aldrin filed a petition claiming that their 88-year-old father was suffering from memory loss, delusions, paranoia, and confusion.

Andrew and Jan Aldrin and Business Manager Christina Korp are on the Board of Trustees and participated in the Gala. Aldrin's eldest son, James, is not involved in the lawsuit.

Andrew Aldrin confirmed his father's absence during the gala.

"Sorry dad can not be here, I know some of you are disappointed," said Aldrin. "Ultimately, it's about creating the first generation of Martians."

Buzz Aldrin, along with Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins, was part of the Apollo 11 mission that landed the first two humans on the moon on July 20, 1969.

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Follow Alex Sanz at https: //twitter.com/AlexSanz and Mike Schneider at https://twitter.com/MikeSchneiderAP


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