Watch Apollo astronauts lead National Memorial Day Parade 2023 in US Capital today (Image Credit: Space.com)
Three Apollo lunar module pilots will be joined by an active member of NASA’s astronaut corps as they help lead the National Memorial Day Parade today (May 29) in Washington, D.C..
Apollo 9 astronaut Rusty Schweickart, Apollo 16 moonwalker Charlie Duke and Apollo 17 geologist Harrison Schmitt have been named this year’s Grand Marshals. The three “Legends of Apollo” will be accompanied by Randy “Komrade” Bresnik, a shuttle mission specialist and space station commander who is helping to lead NASA’s return to the moon as part of the Artemis program.
“What moments in history have inspired us more than the Apollo missions to the moon?” said Tim Holbert, president of the American Veterans Center, which organizes the annual National Memorial Day parade. “As we remember those lost, honor those who have come before and inspire new generations to strive forward, there are no better living symbols to spotlight than the legends of Apollo. It is a tremendous honor to have them with us.”
Presented by Boeing, the parade is set to proceed down Constitution Avenue in the nation’s capital beginning at 2 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT). For those unable to attend, the festivities will be nationally syndicated to more than 100 million households on ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX and CW stations nationwide, airing throughout the month of June. In addition, it will be broadcast to U.S. troops serving around the world and on Navy ships on American Forces Network.
You can also watch the parade live here on Space.com and on YouTube.
In March 1969, four months before the Apollo 11 crew became the first to walk on the moon, the Apollo 9 crew of Schweickart, commander Jim McDivitt and command module pilot David Scott tested the complete Apollo spacecraft — including the lunar module used to land on the moon — in Earth orbit. In addition, Schweickart became the first Apollo astronaut to perform a spacewalk, testing the program’s new spacesuit, including the portable life support system backpack that was used by later astronauts to explore the lunar surface.
Before becoming an astronaut, Schweickart served in the U.S. Air Force and Massachusetts Air National Guard (101st Tactical Fighter Squadron), logging more than 4,000 hours of flight time, including 3,500 hours in high performance jet aircraft.
After serving as capcom in Mission Control for the Apollo 11 landing, Duke became the 10th and youngest person (to date) to walk on the moon when he and Apollo 16 commander John Young landed in the Descartes Highlands in April 1972. The second crew to have use of the Apollo lunar roving vehicle or “moon buggy,” Duke and Young conducted three excursions on the moon over the course of their 71 hours and 14 minutes on the surface.
A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Duke joined the Air Force, serving at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia and with the 526th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron at Ramstein Air Base in West Germany. After graduating from the Aerospace Research Pilot School in 1965, he stayed on as an instructor. As a lieutenant colonel (later promoted to brigadier general), Duke left a medallion marking the 25th anniversary of the Air Force on the moon.
Schmitt was the first scientist and last man (to date) to step off a lunar module onto the surface of the moon. A professional geologist who first helped other astronauts become familiar with the rocks and soil types they would encounter on the moon, he touched down in the Taurus-Littrow valley with Apollo 17 commander Gene Cernan in December 1972. In addition to finding orange soil of volcanic origin on the moon, Schmitt helped set several records, including the greatest distance from a spacecraft during an extravehicular activity and the largest return of lunar samples to date.
Schmitt did not serve in the military, though after his selection as an astronaut, he spent a year with the Air Force undergoing undergraduate pilot training. He was later elected to the U.S. Senate representing the state of New Mexico from 1977 to 1983.
Bresnik is a retired colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps. He was designated a naval aviator in 1992 and graduated from the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School before flying combat missions in support of Operation Southern Watch and Operation Iraqi Freedom. As a NASA astronaut, Bresnik flew twice to the International Space Station; first as a mission specialist on space shuttle Discovery in 2009 and then as a flight engineer on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft. In addition to commanding the Expedition 53 crew, Bresnik logged 32 hours conducting five spacewalks.
The National Memorial Day Parade will also feature veteran and celebrity chef Robert Irvine, and award-winning actors Joe Mantegna and Gary Sinise (Sinese portrayed astronaut Ken Mattingly in the 1995 feature film “Apollo 13“). The United States Air Force Band will perform, as will special musical guests Andy Grammer, Colbie Caillat and Craig Morgan.
The parade’s television special will be hosted by Anthony Anderson (“black-ish”), returning for his fourth consecutive year, and Joe Buck (ESPN Monday Night Football), returning for his second year. The television special will include messages and tributes from Jessica Chastain, Mario Lopez, Tyler Perry, Chris Pratt and many others.
The American Veterans Center reintroduced the tradition of a Memorial Day parade along Constitution Avenue in 2005, decades after it had faded away during the Second World War. It has since grown into the largest Memorial Day event in the United States.
This is the first year that astronauts have served as Grand Marshals, though not the first time they have appeared in the parade. Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin previously took part in several years’ parades, most recently in 2016.