In 1962 President Kennedy announced in a speech in Houston, Texas. “We choose to go to the moon,” the president said. “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”
As with all of humankind’s endeavors to explore and learn, the will and determination to do something must be the beginning of any success you should expect to get. The challenge was exceptional and along with the desire to make it happen, the political desire was equally as important with America wanting to win the space race to beat the Soviet Union, that had been taking all the success with the first satellite, Sputnik 1 and the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin.
Long before Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon, thousands of people had to figure out just how to do it. They had to test their theories on propulsion, guidance and life support, then test them again and again. In tragic instances, some gave their lives as in the crew of Apollo 1 and a terrible crew capsule fire. The learning’s from that fire helped with changes to the design of the final crew capsule. I’m not going to give you a history channel blog and I just wanted to share my feelings about this element of the space race. So much of the space program is well documented but I just wanted to acknowledge the great many people that were behind the astronauts and ultimately in getting humans to the Moon.
Since I was a child I’ve been fascinated by space exploration and the Apollo years. I remember having posters on my bedroom wall of the rockets, space walks and those amazing people walking on the Moon.
Today marks the 50th anniversary of Apollo’s 11’s historic landing on the Moon on the 20th July 1969 and I’ve been lucky enough to meet some Astronauts and see the rockets and equipment up close. A couple of years ago, I went to NASA in Cape Kennedy and I remember being impressed when seeing the Gemini program rocket, however nothing prepared me when I got up close to the Space Shuttle Atlantis.
I actually got emotional when I realised I was standing next to a real piece of space history that I had watched launch in my lifetime. I never thought I’d get that close to the orbiter and for me it was overwhelming. Later in the day I took a tour over to launch complex 39 where Apollo 11 and the later shuttle launches took place. The real treat was seeing the true epic size of the Apollo series Saturn V rocket stages.
These engines were a real contrast to the size of the small capsule at the top where the crew traveled.
The trip to NASA was a dream of a lifetime and I really didn’t want to leave. As an extra unexpected treat, the current Space X Falcon 9 Heavy rocket launched as my Virgin Atlantic flight headed back to London. Seeing the flash of the engines upon launch and then seeing the rocket rise past us at 39,000 feet was a rare and amazing experience timed purely by luck.
Many years earlier I was lucky again to meet astronaut Buzz Aldrin. I didn’t get much time to talk with him but I’ll always remember shaking the hand of the second man to walk on the Moon. I really should try to smile in pictures.
I’ve always loved meeting the people I admire in films, TV or Sport and I have a fairly well stocked signed photo collection. Some of those people I meet are my hero’s that have either lived up to my expectations or been a big let down. I wouldn’t say that Buzz Aldrin was the friendliest person I’ve ever met but he did sign one of the most important images in human history for me and a prized piece of my collection. The picture Neil Armstrong took of him that became one of the most iconic of the whole mission. The refection of Armstrong in his visor and the Luna lander, ‘Eagle’ clearly visible.
After 50 years the space program has taken a different direction with deep space exploration being completed by drones that have explored Mars, passing Asteroids and Comets instead of humans which I personally think is a real shame. Should the technology have been available, would we have sent a drone to the undiscovered countries, instead of exploring them for ourselves? I think not. We should go and see them with our own eyes and take the risks that go along with it. I’d do it in a heart beat.
Man’s Giant leap was a long time ago and I’m please that NASA are now developing the Space Launch System for a possible manned mission to Mars. Here’s to the next leap. I just hope I get to see it in my life time.
To the Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins and the men and women of NASA. Thank you for proving humans can be brave, amazing and an inspiration for us all to be better to each other and the planet we all share.