On this day in 1969, humans set foot on another world for the very first time. Six and a half hours after landing on the lunar surface, astronaut Neil Armstrong emerged from the Lunar Lander Eagle and climbed down the ladder to take his first steps on the surface of the Moon, with the immortal declaration “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”. He was joined about twenty minutes later by co-pilot Buzz Aldrin.
I remember watching this on television as a young child of eight years of age. It was very early in the morning, (UK/Irish time), almost 3am, and my Dad had dragged me out of bed, bleary-eyed, to see the great event as it happened. I stood there, mouth wide open in amazement, watching the images on our old black and white television. Armstrong climbing down the steps, Aldrin joining him, the two astronauts, with their languid, almost slow-motion bouncing around on the lunar surface, planting the US flag, and collecting rock samples and other material to take back to Earth. Even at that early age, I was a hardcore space freak, and I fully understood that this was a most momentous, unforgettable event in human history. It is still one of the greatest memories from my childhood.
I know how memory can cheat, especially from so long ago, and at such an early age. It seems in my ancient memories as though they were out on the surface of the Moon for hours and hours, bouncing around and having fun, and that the Eagle was on the lunar surface for days. But they actually spent less than two and a half hours outside before climbing back aboard Eagle, and less than a day on the lunar surface before Eagle lifted off to rendezvous with the Command Module Columbia and Michael Collins, high above in lunar orbit.
The rest is history. The return to Earth, the splashdown, the triumphant celebrations. It seemed like the solar system was just waiting for us, and that we would be on the Moon, Mars and beyond before the end of the twentieth century. So what happened? Why did the Apollo programme peter out and manned space exploration beyond Low Earth Orbit end?
Yeah, yeah, I know, I know. Public apathy combined with corrupt, greedy, disinterested politicians who saw no more votes or money in funding manned spaceflight to the planets. But what a pathetic, lame excuse to bring such a premature end to mankind’s colonisation of space. We should be out there now, at least as far as the Asteroid Belt.
Hey, maybe in an alternate timeline we did it all. It’s nice to dream, isn’t it? 🙂