Thousands gather to celebrate astronauts in parade ahead of Apollo 11 anniversary

14 Astronauts rode through downtown Cocoa Beach on Corvettes

Cocoa Beach, FL – Wearing NASA shirts and waving their hands with big smiles on their faces, thousands lined up busy A1A in Cocoa Beach for Saturday morning's Astronaut Parade, hosted by the City of Cocoa Beach and the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation.

In the parade were 14 astronauts on Corvettes, including one of the 24 men to ever step foot on the moon, Astronaut Al Worden from Apollo 15. Space shuttle astronauts Rick Hauck, Anna Fisher, Jerry Ross, Bill Nelson, Jim Wetherbee, Bob Cabana, Bruce Melnick, Frank Culbertson, Andy Allen, Stephen Robinson, Scott Altman, Kay Hire and Chris Ferguson were all in attendance, as well. 

"This is a great day," said former Senator and astronaut Bill Nelson from his Corvette. "And we are just about to have humans back on American rockets back into space!"

The parade kicked off a week of celebrations ahead of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission -- when the United States was the first to send men to the moon. 

"We just wanted to be part of history and watch the parade and give thanks to the astronauts and space program," said Stacie Pojero, who drove from Volusia County with her daughter Maren to watch the parade. 

"I love space," Maren said. "There are all kinds of planets and there's lot to learn and I like it."

Across the street was Jim Kreutz, who shared with us his memory of the very moment astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took those first steps on the moon. 

"It was like seeing an impossible dream," Kreutz said. "In 1969, my wife and I with my one-year old son sitting in front of the TV watching the great landing, it's just thrilling to say that today."

Event supporters are hoping this opportunity to inspire not only pays respects to the historical moment that literally launched from this community on the east coast of central Florida, but also lifts our sights to what might be in the future. According to astronaut Chris Ferguson, who commanded the final shuttle flight in 2011, that future is here. He's set to blast off again with Boeing and broke the news Saturday of the next mission just two months away. 

"We have an uncrewed test flight here in September and it's looking good," Ferguson told News 6 after the parade. "We were working late into the night last night doing test work,  24/7 operations. We are in the final push and I'm optimistic you are going to see humans return to space from the space coast within the next several months, which is exciting. It's been a long time."

Ferguson said the hope is to have humans launch to space from the Space Coast by the end of the year. 

Ferguson added that he feels "very lucky to be able to be here after 50 years and be part of something like this when at the time, they were just stars in my eyes."

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