Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Moon Landing Memories

Today is 40 years since Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. Everyone who was there has their own memories, and here are a few of mine.

The theme tune from Richard Strauss' music "Also Sprach Zarathustra", with its loud bonging beat as the rocket took off, and disappeared, a tiny flare on the screen.

James Burke, who seemed to be everywhere, with his trademark jokey delivery. Except when Patrick Moore popped along, bow tie, monocle in eye, with that strange staccato style of speech that he had.

Pictures of the control centre at Houston, with all the desks, machines, and men, and all the machines in the background. Yes, computers once were like a Gerry Anderson show!

Creeping down in the middle of the night with my father (so as not to wake my mother and sister, who didn't want to see the landing), and watching the usual fuzzy picture of 425 lines on the TV being more fuzzy than usual, as one very fuzzy shadow moved slowly down the screen and Neil Armstrong uttered his immortal words "One small step....", and feeling somewhat cheated.

I know it was real and not a conspiracy filmed on a movie set  by Stanley Kubrick because I saw 2001 A Space Odyssey, and quite frankly, if he'd done the moon landing, you would at least have been able to see Armstrong not a silhouette. Incidentally, modern digital image enhancement has managed to make him just slightly more visible.

The number of graphics of the orbit of the lunar module, the descent, the orbiter, docking procedures, the way back to earth, all with dotted lines mapping out the paths. That fine artwork has been replaced by the bland sameness of digital 3D imagery and I think it's a pity. My particular favourite, the zigzag line connecting a telephone in the Oval Office to the Lunar module on the moon, like a Frank Bellamy Dr Who illustration.

The notion that the president of the USA, Richard Nixon, could pick up his phone for that historical phone call and be connected directly to the moon. That was surely the height of cool science! I wondered what it would be like if I could dial - would I get Buzz Aldrin or just a buzzing noise? The 50,000 dollar question: did Nixon tape the conversation?

The feeling that in Harold Wilson's words, this was "the white heat of the technological revolution" and there was no telling what science could achieve. And years later, a sense of disappointment that the great dream of science turned sour, and that my children's generation would never see a human being standing on the moon.

Splashdown, the capsule, parachute billowing along the ocean, and the helicopters and navy ships coming to pick it up. And wondering what happened to all that space debris, the lunar module, the orbiter. Space litter, and the throwaway culture. Something must be better, and when the space shuttle came along, that gave a new hope. There was even one called Enterprise.

Will we again boldly go?

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