Never let it be said that I’m one to let a bandwagon pass by without jumping on it – and the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing is going to be no exception!
I have followed, with keen interest, the American Manned Space Programme (or “Program” if you believe in the existence of “American English” as a separate written language!) ever since the first Project Mercury shots were sent up.
The very first of these were “crewed” by monkeys and by a strange coincidence the same can be said of some departments within the company I currently work for!
My interest REALLY took off, however, when John Glenn did the first Earth orbit by an American on my 9th birthday! I can’t remember what other presents I received but THAT was a good one!
After that I watched all possible TV coverage of the following Gemini and early Apollo missions and, once upon a time I would have been able to quote you all of the crews and mission objectives for the whole lot of them. I’m afraid though that it has all faded away now, much like human ambitions to “boldly go”!
With the arrival of 1969 I was able, despite studying for exams, to keep up with the preparations for the moon landing which commenced that year with the launch of Apollo 10 which got to within 75,000 feet of the lunar surface but which was not equipped for a landing – presumably so as not to tempt the mission commander to “accidentally” steal a march on Neil Armstrong!
By the time Apollo 11 was launched on 16th July 1969 I had finished my exams and with the rest of my class was just passing the time anyway I could in our “common room” (a big room used as an extension to the Canteen and as the Heathrow Youth Club out of school hours).
Because of its use as a Youth Club this room had various facilities not available to us in a normal classroom – such as a table football machine and, much more importantly, a Television set!
It was on that large (for its time) black and white TV screen that we watched the actual launch of Apollo 11 – that must have been a Wednesday because on Friday 18th July I was released forever from the confines of Prospicimus Secondary Modern at the end of the school year.
I suppose many of my classmates went home and spent the next few days following these historic events on their home televisions – but not me!
Due to a really bad piece of forward planning I had signed up (and paid) to go on the annual camp (meant in a tent-y way not the gay sense!) of the 3rd Ipswich Boys Brigade Company which was to take place this year at Haytor in Devon. A place in the middle of Dartmoor which Television transmissions did not yet reach!
I have a number of recollections of that week which belong in a separate article but the main one is of LISTENING, in the small hours of the morning, to the moon landing on a transistor radio with fading batteries! I have, of course, WATCHED it all since but will always regret having been so far away from civilisation at such a critical time!
It was, however, a happy time in that listening with me in my tent were two brothers – Dwayne and David, US citizens who had joined the Boys Brigade a year or so earlier. They were the sons of an American Airforce Sergeant who lived off-base in Ipswich and I thought those two were going to burst with pride when Neil and Buzz got onto the surface!
It’s such a shame that the dream has subsequently died – it all comes down to money which the mindless masses want spending on stuff that gives an immediate short term return or benefit only.
We need to think, not just “outside the box” but “off the planet! The expression “all your eggs in one basket” occurs to me as very relevant here!
After all, in the words of the Russian rocketry pioneer Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, “The Earth is the cradle of humanity – but who wants to stay in the cradle forever.”