Monday, July 20, 2009

It Was 40 Years Ago Today

I clearly remember the excitement I felt all day (July 20th, 1969). We had no TV in South Africa in those days, but during the radio broadcast of Apollo 11's decent to the moon I sat in my room in Mill Park Road, ear glued to my little blue portable. It was close to midnight when I heard "The Eagle has landed", by this time the radio was tucked under my pillow and I was pretending to be asleep. I was nine years old. I heard Armstrong's "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind" early the next morning, probably not live, but it made no difference to me. I also clearly remember laying on my back in the garden looking up at the moon and imagining those guys exploring - everything blurry and in black and white.

I loved the Apollo program. I read everything I could get my hands on that mentioned NASA and the space program. In 1972 (I was 12) the folks took me to Cape Kennedy (as Cape Canaveral was called in those days). The mission patches I bought there were amongst my proudest possessions and were immediately sown onto my scout jacket. As clich├ęd as it sounds, the space program taught me to dream big and to love science.

We sat around at lunch today and sprouted the usual cynical bullshit about the whole thing being filmed on the back lot at Universal Studios and so on. That was wrong, driving home I heard a replay of those memorable phrases on the BBC and I realized I missed an opportunity. I should rather have told the squints just how much difference man's walking on the moon made to a little boy growing up in a small town on the tip of Africa. The staggering power of human beings united behind a simple idea is awesome. It meant a lot to me then and still does now.

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