I was 10, we were in Cornwall England, on holiday. It was July 21st 1969, not July 20th, only because we were a day ahead of the USA. I remember my father pulling me out of bed and telling me we were going to watch a man land on the moon. We got in the car, just him and me, and we drove to a pub. Kids were never allowed in pubs in those days, but this was momentous. A man landing on the moon! Who would have believed it? And obviously today, there are still many doubters, those who think it was staged, those who have an inkling it was a ruse just to beat the Russians to that big prize, but no matter what the real story, this 10-year-old boy was transfixed to that little TV screen in that small pub in Cornwall, waiting and waiting for the moment all of our lives would change and all of my dreams came true. It was magical.
I used to have a large color poster on my bedroom wall. It depicted all of the planets, and some of the constellations visible from earth. I would go to sleep at night gazing at this picture and wondering out loud what it might be like to travel as fast as possible to a distant planet and meet another 10-year-old boy just like me, with a poster like mine, and dreams as vivid as my imagination was back then. It took guts to get inside a space craft on top of a huge rocket, and it took brains to get that rocket and space craft to go exactly where it was supposed to go, but in those days, I knew little of the bravery, the mathematics, and the politics involved in making all of this happen. To me, it was simple. Light the fuse, and the rocket blasted off for the moon. In no time the astronauts were there and walking around, right where they were supposed to walk. It had been a great build up, set out over the previous 2 years. There was Apollo 8, and then 9 and 10, all coming close, all beaming back pictures, all teasing us with what the moonscape looked like from 60 miles above its surface, but no one, not even a Martian, had ever set foot there. The space program was well covered in the UK, and we were kept up to date with all the news on a daily basis. And then, in July of 1969, it happened, and if my father hadn’t woken me up, I would have missed it.
We sat, pensive, some men drinking beer, others, whisky, and some just watching. There was no color in 1969, well, not that we could afford, and certainly not in this particular pub, the TV set was so small, I think my Iphone has a larger screen, but we huddled, as close as we possibly could, and we waited. The conversation between the Lunar Landing Module and Mission Control was riveting. It seemed to go on for hours and hours, but being only 10 years old, it could have been only minutes and it just felt like hours. And then, just as that moment arrived, the moment that man would touch down on the moon, the moment the whole planet had been waiting for, our screen went blank, totally blank, to huge gasps of dissapintment from all who were gathered in that small room inside that small public house in Cornwall. Right at that crucial second, we could see nothing. What we didn’t realize was, that no one else on the planet could see anything either. We were not alone. With some minutes of downtime passing by, feeling like hours, suddenly the TV screen burst back into life and there it was, the Eagle HAD landed, and we all jumped up and applauded. It was incredible. No matter who you were, what you believed in, you applauded. One man picked me up of my seat and gave me a huge bear hug, and I remember that everyone started singing. I have no idea what they were singing, but they all broke into song simultaneously, and a choral response ensued.
With all of these vivid memories flooding back, I take my hat off and say a prayer for Neil Armstrong. He was without a doubt a hero to many people, a pioneer, and someone who’s name and immortal words, will remain in history for ever. No one can take away his title, first man on the moon, and no one would ever want to. He got the job by default and he grabbed the opportunity with professionalism and modesty, always shying away from the limelight that would forever haunt him. I salute you Neil Armstrong. I thank you too. I thank you for helping me dream at night, dreams that were always so real and for helping me to believe, believe that the impossible is always possible. May you rest in peace and may you always be remembered as the gentleman and space pioneer you always were.
Do you remember the day we landed on the moon? If you do and would like to share that memory, please leave a comment.