Former NASA astronaut Buzz Aldrin was noticeably absent at a gala that celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing for a year, although his charitable Space Foundation is a sponsor and he is typically the main attraction.
Aldrin's absence from the Apollo Celebration Gala on Saturday night was not explained. 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 Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson
Branson, whose company is developing a new generation of commercial spacecraft, said in a video that the Apollo missions influenced his 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 the former director of the Johnson Space Center, Gerry Griffin, flight director of all manned Apollo missions, was honored with the Pioneer Award.
"It's very humiliating, it kinda 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 had flown on Apollo 9 like the lunar module pilot, 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 happened before"
Aldrins ShareSpace Foundation is one of the sponsors of the annual gala, which raises funds for science, technology, engineering, arts and maths – or STEAM education – and astronaut scholarships.
Renowned Brazilian pop art artist Romero Britto donated works of art from his "Buzz Aldrin Space Series" to the auction, which included 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 former astronaut's awaited absence comes just one month after he sued two of his adult children and a former business leader, introducing them to the misuse of his credit cards, money from one and maligned him by saying he has dementia. Just weeks before the lawsuit, Andrew and Jan Aldrin filed a petition alleging that their 88-year-old father suffered from memory loss, delusions, paranoia, and confusion.
Andrew and Jan Aldrin and Business Manager Christina Korp 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 was along with Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins part of the Apollo 11 mission, which brought the first two humans to the moon on July 20, 1969.
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin rolls the red carpet for Mars (Update)