Beep.The fuzzy, shaky white ghostly figure with a curved mirror head and a big white box on its back staggered comically down the steps. Beep. “That’s one small step for man”. Beep. “One giant leap for mankind” Beep. And the world was never the same again.
Sadly, Neil Armstrong, the man who uttered those words on July 21 1969 and took those first steps on the Moon has died, aged 82. His footprints are still there, but are unlikely to be joined by any others for many decades to come, if ever again.
I remember watching the TV news, that day. Our tiny black and white TV in its walnut cabinet with little shelf to house my mum’s Jean Plaidy books and handy drawer for the knitting had been flickering all night, the valves glowing hot from such over-use. My impatient little head couldn’t understand why, having landed on the Moon, they didn’t just get out and play, the suspense was unbearable. I didn’t know then that Armstrong, a skilled stick and rudder pilot, had manoeuvred the lunar module over boulders, knowing he had just seconds-worth of fuel left. It could have ended so badly, he and Buzz Aldrin were probably having a swig of firewater before they trumped the history they’d just made by landing on the moon and opening the door of the Eagle.
Every sentence they uttered was punctuated with a Beep, which to me was the sound of Outer Space. I’d heard it when Apollo 8 had orbited the Moon the previous Christmas and the astronauts read the first ten verses of the book of Genesis. Lots of beeps. Added to that was the excitement of the iconic photographs they took of the Earth from near the Moon made available as posters to supermarket shoppers thanks to a free offer from Cross and Blackwell’s spaghetti hoops, I ate a lot of those in 1968, it fuelled the nervous anticipation of the lunar landing.
Of the 12 men who walked on the Moon, only eight now remain, the youngest, Charlie Duke, is 76, in a couple of decades or so they will be no more. When will we head for the stars again? Of course we are in and among the stars already, Voyager 1, launched in 1977, five years after we’d given up the Moon, is already 11 billion miles away, chugging to the edge of the solar system. And there’s the chirpy Curiosity rover which is Tweeting from the surface of Mars. But it’s not the same as Man or indeed Woman being there. When will we ever explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilisations, and boldly go where no man has gone before? I don’t think it’ll be in my lifetime, not unless we find a lot of money down the back of the sofa to pay for rockets and rocketmen.
That night all those years ago I remember my dad pointing up to the Moon and saying he could see Neil and Buzz, they were both waving back to the Earth. Even then I knew it wasn’t true, but I wanted it to be.The world is poorer for the passing of Neil Armstrong, but what he started and what he achieved will last forever.