Evolving Thoughts

It was 38 39 years ago today


I was breathless, sitting in the loungeroom of my religious studies teacher in Year 7. Unlike nearly everyone else in my year, I was a space nerd. I kept card files of each astronaut and cosmonaut. I knew how many thousands of pounds each F1 engine on the Saturn V used per minute. I was waiting

And this ghostly and ethereal image showed a man who stood on the landing pad of the LEM on another world, and… well just watch it for yourself and know this was one of the greatest moments of my life, a year after one of the worst (the death of my dad):


  1. #1 Mike Dunford
    July 21, 2008

    I’m not much for math, but wasn’t it 39 years ago?

  2. #2 John S. Wilkins
    July 21, 2008

    Nobody likes a smartarse, Dunford…

  3. #3 Eamon Knight
    July 21, 2008

    In the Overactive Pattern Recognition Dept:
    It was 25 years before comet Shoemaker-Levy impacted Jupiter, and 25 years after the attempted assassination by bomb of Adolf Hitler.

    But less irrelevantly, yes: it was an exciting day to be a science-keen adolescent. In my case, we were standing in the back of a country store high in the Rockies near Denver, watching through the upper half of the dutch door that led to the owners’ kitchen, where a small b&w TV was perched on the counter.

  4. #4 Thony C.
    July 21, 2008

    I was never that much of a space freak and I must, to my shame, admit that I have no recollections of the first moon landing at all. I can remember the second one that I watched together with Melvin Lasky and his son Ollie, who was a school friend, in their flat in Hampstead. But as they say being second don’t count for anything in this world.

  5. #5 Lassi Hippeläinen
    July 21, 2008

    I was a 14-year space nerd (and still am, only older), but I wasn’t watching. Probably most of Europe wasn’t. As usual, the Americans timed it for their prime time.

  6. #6 gyokusai
    July 21, 2008

    When Armstrong put his foot down on the moon on July 21 at 03:56:20 CET, I was glued to the small transistor radio I had brought for that very moment, and listening with me were the other five boys with whom I shared a room in the summer camp that year. Can’t tell about the others, but for me, who could tick off mission and rocket specs by heart, this was a defining moment. And it was my birthday (as it is was today). An amazing time, that was.

  7. #7 John Monfries
    July 22, 2008

    I was in Indonesia, and a few days later one of the servants (yes, we had them) reported incredulously – “They tell me a man’s been to the moon, and what has he done? He’s brought back some rocks!” He thought it a most pointless undertaking.

    I have to say I am sympathetic to that attitude. I recall an editorial in the Far Eastern Economic Review of the time, arguing that President Kennedy – who started off the whole effort – should have made his target a cure for cancer rather than a moon landing. Adding that “man would probably pollute the universe with his presence”, it concluded along that lines that the real challenge was to solve human problems here on earth. Sorry to be a wet blanket.

  8. #8 John S. Wilkins
    July 22, 2008

    I’ve heard that argument made since the sixties. It doesn’t work for several reasons: one being that the money spent on the space race was a good investment – it meant that we could focus on something other than military competition (the US spent the sum total of the entire Apollo program on one day’s bombing of Cambodia and Vietnam at the height of that campaign).

    Another is that when Nixon tried to declare war on cancer (yes, there have been a number of wars on abstractions) it failed abysmally – why? Because it was presumed by the funding agencies that cancer was viral in etiology. As it turns out, only a smallish portion of cancer is viral (such as HPV based cancers like cervical cancer – a cell line sample of which ended up infecting labs around the world, causing much false positive results, incidentally).

    We should spend money on improving the human condition, but don’t automatically assume it will work out. One way to fund those kinds of things is to not invade other countries! What the US has spent on Iraq alone would have solved most of the infrastructure and social problems plaguing the US, from health to education. And that war is being funded by deficit spending for the future to sort out. I see a depression on the way…

  9. #9 Thony C.
    July 22, 2008

    Damn you Wilkins! You got me worrying. I can remember being woken up by my mother and taken out on the lawn to watch Sputnik fly over but to be honest I don’t know if I actually saw it. I can remember sitting in primary school and watching the show down on TV during the Cuba missile crisis. I know what I was doing when I heard about JFK. I know where I was on the night Jimmi died and what I was doing when I heard about John Lennon. As I said above I have a clear memory of the second moon landing so why the fuck can’t I remember the first one?

  10. #10 John S. Wilkins
    July 22, 2008

    Thony, the late sixties were very good to you, weren’t they?

  11. #11 John Monfries
    July 22, 2008

    I’m all for not invading other countries, no argument there, and what a colossal waste of money Iraq has been, apart from the waste of lives.

    I suppose there is something in the idea of diverting money from straight-out military-weapon spending, and no doubt space research had some unexpected and desirable spin-offs; but a priority on solving human social problems here on earth still seems a better use of resources to me. And please don’t put the war on cancer into the same box as the war on drugs or the war on terror.

    On memories, I saw Sputnik fly over too. My parents took me out into the suburban Sydney backyard, and told me “you’ve seen history”. It was a bit more visible than Halley’s comet. The other vivid memory of those years was the Queen’s visit – months of excited expectation and a huge anticlimax as this white-gloved apparition sped past in a split-second. Ah, nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.

  12. #12 dave
    July 24, 2008

    Ah yes, remember it well. The great memory is the bit when he slowly and carefully went down the ladder, checking off how it was going, and the moment when he set foot on the moon and said….. “I can feel it with my foot, it’s kind of soft and squishy”.

    Then he stepped off the ladder with the other foot, and did the small step speech. Less fun. And after that, there was Nixon in a wee circle on the top right corner, with the moon lander to the left, saying “This has got to be the most historic telephone call in all history.” Nope. Got that one wrong, Dicky.

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