FIFTY years ago this week I was young and on summer holiday on the hills of the County of Northumberland in the North of England. Like any youngster I was very busy and totally focused on my own concerns. Self absorbed.
Then one day late in the evening we were gathered together to watch the landing on the Moon. While we had been busy running about with all our activities three of the coolest guys on or off this planet had landed on the moon.
I recall the evening; we were all tired and I am not at all certain that I watched the event live. I suspect that in the warm and dimly lit canteen I like so many of the others took the opportunity to doze off. My memories of the moon landing could be coloured more by why I saw and learned over the following decades than what I actually saw on that warm summer night.
I do recall many of the episodes in the space program of the 1960’s the tragic deaths as well as the stunning and amazing days. I do recall the development flights of the Mercury and Gemini campaigns.
The first time there was a circuit round to the dark side of the moon, that face that is forever turned away from planet Earth. I recall the space walks, the pictures beamed down to us seemed magical and my boyhood’s imagination was surely captivated. Finally the Apollo campaign.
None the less for that week in July 1969 I forgot about the campaign to reach the Moon and return safely. Over the years I have had the good fortune to see a fragment of moon rock brought back by those three Astronauts. Like so many others I have peered into the tiny space capsule that took the men to the moon and returned to a watery splash-down in the Pacific Ocean close to the Islands of Hawaii. Followed by the resounding welcome and world tour with cheering parades for the three heroes of space across all the continents.
The campaign to go to the moon and return safely was not without hazard and danger on the ground and in the air and beyond into space. What amazes me now looking back is how few actually died in the campaign. Then there are the discoveries made, the forced pace of development for technologies from Velcro and textiles to electronics and computing.
Not to forget that most of the design calculation was done with slide-rules [remember those?] and not electronic calculators. It is easy to forget just how much has changed in the interval between then and now. What is easy to recall is the romance of the venture and the heroism of the campaigns. Just how cool these three men really were and remain.
Who remembers their names? Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. The first man Neil Armstrong was the first man to step on to the moon. ‘Buzz’ Aldrin was the second man to step on the moon’s surface though Neil and Buzz arrived in the Sea of Tranquillity together.
Meanwhile the third man Michael Collins remained in the Command Module while Neil and Buzz made the first on the spot reconnoitre of the surface of the moon. During the return flight of the moon lander to the Command Module in orbit round the Moon Michael Collins took a picture with his camera through the window of the Command Module.
In the frame of this picture one can see the blue Earth with all of humanity living on it, in the frame of the picture also is the luminous moon and the approaching lunar lander. In the lander are two men. Two of the three living humans not on the blue planet at that moment. The only living human being not in the frame of the picture that day is the photographer and Astronaut Michael Collins.
Nick Horne, London, England