Thursday, July 16, 2009

Apollo 11....We Have Liftoff

I realise that the current glut of tv programs about the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11's historic mission to the moon might be regarded as overkill to many people but, except for those who still claim it never happened, watching those events unfold have to constitute the most exciting, and terrifying, tv moments ever watched. They certainly were to my youthful eyes.

It's not overstating things to say that the goings on at NASA in the early to late 60's influenced my entire life. For a start, watching that first lunar footstep kept me up into the wee small hours of the morning and set a pattern that would live with me to this day as I rarely go to bed before 1am or 2am even now !!

It gave me a fascination with America that 20 years later would start me on a journey taking me to every state in the Union apart from Alaska. It gave me a love of all things space and technology and as I knew I could never be an astronaut, I made the decision to go completely against my 'artistic' nature and make my career working with computers. My naive teenage thinking was that if I couldn't actually go into space, I'd at least try and help and be around those who did.

Sadly after 25 years working in the IT dept at ASDA, the closest I got to being a part of NASA was having 3 of the 4 letters of their name !

But back on this day, 40 years ago, I, with millions of others, was glued to our tv set watching the launch of Apollo 11. This upset my mother, I can tell you, who wasn't used to making sandwiches for so many people and kept going on about the mess in her living room.

As we all know, only 12 men have ever walked on the moon and the subsequent choices made by the first of them, Neil Armstrong, may seem to have been a PR disaster but probably kept him sane. He eventually followed the advice and actions of a previous aeronautical hero, Charles Lindbergh, as he stopped giving autographs and interviews and to all intents and purposes retired from public life.

A brilliant pilot but a very private man, Armstrong decided that not even being the first man on the moon was adequate compensation for having to live the rest of his life being known as the first man on the moon. Just being an astronaunt affected so many in a negative way that I can't imagine the pressures on being Neil Armstrong. Although disappointed that we don't have more media footage of the man and thus a better insight into his unique experiences, I respect his decision for privacy and can accept what he did as his enduring legacy.

I've been fortunate enough to have seen 6 of the 12 Apollo Command Modules. This includes the only one on display outside America, Apollo 10 in the Science Museum in London. The others were Apollo 8 in the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, Apollo 11 in the National Air & Space Museum, Washington D.C., Apollo 14 in the Astronaut Hall of Fame in Titusville, Florida, Apollo 16 in the US Space & Rocket Centre, Huntsville, Alabama and Apollo 17 in the NASA Johnson Space Centre, Houston, Texas.

I'm still kicking myself for 'missing' the Apollo 13 CM which is on display in the little known Kansas Cosmosphere & Space Centre in Hutchinson, Kansas.

Yes, I'd never heard of it either !!

I never met an Apollo astronaut or watched a live Apollo launch and watching a few Space Shuttle launches and talking and being photographed with a shuttle astronaut, although exciting, has been scant compensation. Seeing and feeling a Saturn V taking off would've been an event to live long in the memory.

But being alive to experience the Apollo missions in the television era is, for me, something to savour and be grateful for. Although many may regard the whole exercise as a huge waste of money, time and effort, even they can't deny the historical significance (Apollo 11), the life threatening drama (Apollo 13) and the technological brilliance of the entire Apollo project. There may have been a large slice of luck involved in getting to the moon and back using all the computing power of a modern day calculator but you have to stand back and admire the single mindedness of the team responsible and the outstanding bravery of the men who sat 363 feet above enough explosive power to send bits of them to the moon and beyond without the need for the rocket if things went wrong.

As a teenager I may have wanted to be an astronaunt, but if given the opportunity, I'm not sure I'd have been brave enough. I'm not even comfortable on a plane. Hell I'm not even keen going up a ladder !!

So in a couple of hours time, at 14:32 BST, I'll be thinking back to 1969 when most of the world was united as never before. Wars still went on, people still died and Annie Walker still ruled over The Rovers Return but for a few minutes at least, all eyes and ears were turned to launch pad 39a at Cape Kennedy on the East Florida coast to witness the start of the greatest journey in history.

Two little seen photographs sum it up for me. For anyone who has seen the Vehicle Assembly Building up close (back then known as the Vertical Assembly Building), this first photo shows perfectly just how huge and impressive the Saturn V rocket really was. This is Apollo 11 starting its long journey to the moon by going the first 3 miles to the launch pad.

And finally here is a photo of the launch itself. A moment when millions of us held our collective breaths, marvelled at what we were seeing and wished God speed to the 3 men we couldn't see but hoped would take us on the adventure of a lifetime, an adventure we could tell our grandchildren about 40 years later.

Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins. Thanks for the ride.


rhymeswithplague said...

Great post, Ian! If memory serves correctly, Apollo 17 was the nighttime launch. Our family lived in Boca Raton in Palm Beach County then, about 150 miles south of the Cape. That launch was the most spectacular thing I have ever seen. It lit up the entire northern part of the sky. I couldn't believe we were as far away as we were, as it appeared to be just up the road in Delray Beach.

I have felt a Shuttle launch too, and been in awe. Can only imagine what a Saturn V launch just have felt like.

Silverback said...

Sent you an email, Bob.

Happy memories

Daphne said...

Great post. Thank you: I found it really moving - it's all been such an important part of my life too - - and I never, ever thought I'd see the Kennedy Space Centre - - and, of course, last year, I did. Fantastic. Amazing to see the photo of the Saturn V next to the VAB too.

rhymeswithplague said...

Daphne, really? You've been to Florida? Why didn't you ever mention it? :)

jay said...

You and OH will get along so well, if we manage to meet up some day!

He hasn't made the pilgimage to see so many modules, but he would, no doubt, if he could!

Great post - great photos!

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