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It is almost 40 years ago

In just over one month’s time, some of us space geeks will be hoisting a glass or several to mark this 40th anniversary. I was only a three-year old toddler when Messrs Armstrong and Aldrin climbed out of the craft and onto that dusty, sun-blasted place called the Moon. 40 years. Popular Mechanics has a good look at what it all meant.

I think a good place to mark the occasion would be down at Greenwich, London, near to the Royal Observatory.

24 comments to It is almost 40 years ago

  • Alisa

    I am 6 years older than you Jonathan, and yet I missed that, because where I lived at the time they didn’t show that:-|

  • I’m a child of the Space Age, and grew up thrilled by it, and still admire Armstrong and Aldrin, and the engineers who made it possible, but I have to say that my view these days is that the whole thing was a ghastly mistake, so I don’t have the heart to raise a glass. The nationalised space programmes killed any chance I might have had of seeing the space development I believed would happen when I was a bright eyed young nipper.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Ian B, well, I take the view that considered against other things that governments spent their money on, the landings were pretty benign. So for the sheer technical brilliance of it, I will be raising a toast.

    You ought to read this essay by James P. Hogan(Link) on how state involvement has been a harmful thing. He’s a writer I like.

    For what it is worth, Buzz Aldrin is a pretty strong advocate of private space development.

  • Everyone is ignoring Mike Collins who also participated in Nasa’s big trip but only remained in orbit (solving the Irish Question or something).

    I agree with Ian. Apollo was absolutely fecking brilliant but completely wrong-headed but I also agree with JP. It was feckin’ phenomenal. 66 years after a pair of bicycle makers flew a contraption that managed walking pace from Kill Devil Hills, SC they landed men on the moon. That is achievement and regardless of how it was done that was one hell of a feat.

    I shall raise a glass to Apollo. It was four years before I was born but it was the great myth I was raised on. We’ve done the moon, what next?

    There is a reason I have an MSc in Astrophysics and it isn’t just because it works with the ladies.

    It does by the way.

  • Brad

    I was exactly 1 when man landed on the moon, and as it was on my birthday I always felt some odd connection with it and space travel in general. While I concede the marvel of the intellect it took to accomplish it, I can’t, at this point, divorce the amalgamation of people, public and private, that brought it about from the bloated, “State Science”, slack jawed, cretinous group of boobs we have today.

    The modern NASA fits in nicely with all the other Statist bent sub-bureaucracies (e.g. NOAA) which fuel the ever expanding Science based Statist initiatives we have today. It is a prime cautionary tale against Statism at the root because it shows that whatever the origins, once the State function is made it doesn’t go away and you have to be endlessly concerned with WHO can eventually control it. Any good will eventually be offset by a longer duration of bad. NASA has gone from the intrepid men and women of the moon landings to diaper wearing would be killers, from Shuttle launches/landings to already decrepit space stations with multi-million dollar crappers that don’t work.

    Space exploration, if there is to be any, will be economic resource driven. State funded glorified hobby shops for pliant and agreeable MIT grads isn’t going to be any more than that.

  • Sam Duncan

    So that’s where I’ve been going wrong, Nick.

    Anyway, it just seems like the other day I was discussing the 30th anniversary on Usenet. Time flies. I agree with Jonathan: regardless of how it was done, it was done, and, like the Harrier, Concorde and ARPANet, it was amazing. The first landing was before I was born, but it does fill me with a sense of wonder that within my lifetime, men stood on the moon (even if I don’t remember it). And I have no doubt that this century, sooner rather than later, it’ll be done properly.

  • Laird

    I was in high school at the time of the Landing (capital L), and took some grainy, slightly out-of-focus photos off the television screen. It was an amazing time, and you young whippershappers can’t fully appreciate the feeling we got watching that “one small step” live. I agree with all the comments about NASA (I’ve made them myself), but neither the fact that NASA has degenerated into a make-work bureaucracy nor the argument that the entire project was wrong-headed to begin with takes anything away from the accomplishment. I’ll join in the toast.

  • RAB

    I watched it aged 16 at my mate Walter’s house.

    There were a gang of us lads and his parents.

    Frankly us lads were a bit underimpressed. Well we were brought up on Sci Fi, Dan Dare, Flash Gordon, Dr Who, nad it was only the moon after all, we’d have watched if it was Alpha Centouri.

    Only in retrospect did I understand the staggering brilliance of the men and women who made it happen.

    Anyway, time for the anecdote.

    My mate Walter’s mum is not the sharpest tool in the etc.
    So we are dutifully watching Neil coming down the ladder and getting his words wrong, apparently, when she pipes up…

    I think the BBC is marvelous dont you?

    Er, in what way mrs Stoor?

    Well the way they have got those brave lads from the Outside Broadcast Unit in place, to watch them land…

  • Kevin B

    Jeez Nick M. Sixty years to go from Kitty Hawk to Apollo, and in the next forty years….? We really need to find a better way to get out of gravity wells.

    Still, I shall join the rest in raising a glass and remembering those blurry images and poetic words.

  • The landing of Apollo XI was the single most Sense of Wonder moment of my life.

    I was in grad school at the University of Minnesota, RA in Physics and Astronomy. For most of us in that program, that meant we got to (had to) be operators on our proton accelerator. This is what I was doing, during the landing.

    We hooked up a monitor in the control room, ran a signal in somehow, and watched. I was running the linac that shift. So there I was, operating a great metropolitan atom-smasher while watching the first steps on the Moon, surrounded by eager nerds commenting on it all.

    It don’t get better than that.

  • Wow, I’m the first commentator born after the event (though my birthday is the anniversary of the Apollo 1 fire).
    As a follower of the Newspace crowd I’m cautiously optimistic that the next 10 years are going to be very interesting (is that an open invite to Greenwich park BTW?)

  • veryretired

    Most people remember Armstrong’s line about the “small step”, but I got chills at the time, and remember most vividly, the radio transmission when they landed—“Houston, Tranquility Base here, the Eagle has landed”.

    Several years later, as a sort of reward for a recent promotion. I was sent to a project management seminar led by one of the engineers who led a section of the Apollo program. It was remarkable, and easily the best training seminar I have ever attended.

    I still have the notebook with the training materials, and have used it as a reference several times over the years.

    As far as the role of the state in the project, yes, that was unfortunate. But it must be remembered that this, as in so many other areas, was a direct result of the terrible distortions to our social and political lives brought about by the relentless aggressiveness of various forms of militarism and totalitarianism in the 20th century.

    As in so many other things the US dove into, the pressing feeling was that we had to deny the Soviets the prestige and strategic position they would acquire if they dominated space exploration, and esp. if they colonized the moon.

    In the past century, the US and her allies brought about the end of several world empires, and defeated fascism, militarism, and soviet communism, both militarily and culturally, across the globe.

    But, as in all cases of extended conflict, there is a heavy price to pay for maintaining a national effort at that high level for so long.

    The current headlong plunge into a domestic variation of collectivism much like that we used to fight against is only the most immediate and visible cost. Many other bills will come due over the next few decades, and it is problematic whether or not the assets are there any longer to pay them.

    As an old sci-fi fan, I would happily board the first ship bound for the stars, even if I knew I would never live to see our destination.

    It’s living through these next few decades on earth that scares me.

  • Ian B, well, I take the view that considered against other things that governments spent their money on, the landings were pretty benign.

    Well, I dunno. The Space Race put in place a mindset that space exploration can only be performed by governments, for reasons of national greatness, with taxpayers’ money, and that space exploration is inherently an immensely costly, practically useless activity which is beyond the means of private bodies.

    Apollo was classic Big Government Technology- an overly ambitious goal, too early in the technological development path, without any purpose beyond Doing It. We got a few men on the moon, who collected some rocks to cheer the hearts of geologists, and nothing beyond that. The Moon effort was entirely unsustainable, as in fact it still is. It was equivalent to using the GDP of a medium sized nation to build a Concorde in 1930 (or 1970, come to that, perhaps) just for the jolly of doing it. If you do such a project too early- isolated from the market realities of costs, which all us free marketeers know represent actual value and thus the actual practicality of the project- you end up with a Great Historical Moment and the belief that the whole thing is beyond the capacity of free enterprise, and thus a project that cannot be continued, and thus forty years of stagnation.

    This wasn’t space’s version of Kitty Hawk. It was the equivalent of the US government spending a billion dollars in 1900 to build one plane, flying it a couple of times to impress everybody, then packing up and going home because “Aircraft are not a commercial proposition. Just look at the immense costs of flying our one aeroplane”.

  • Jacob

    A brilliant technological achievement, no doubt, and it deserves a drink.
    But it was a useless gesture. I mean – nothing much, of practical or scientific value, resulted from this mission. It’s kind of an adventure, for adventure’s sake. Which is ok with me.

  • Alice

    “The modern NASA fits in nicely with all the other Statist bent sub-bureaucracies (e.g. NOAA) which fuel the ever expanding Science based Statist initiatives we have today.”

    Interestinly, President Eisehower warned against this very thing in his famous retirement address — he warned about the military/industrial complex, and in the next breath warned about the negative effects of government-funding of science.

    As an aside, for about 2/3 of the human race, the Moon Landings are ancient history. Just like Hitler and Stalin and Julius Caesar — all happened before they were born.

  • On the day, search for “Hope Eyrie” on youtube and play it. The Julia Ecklar version is probably the best.

    And stand to attention.

    For a little more fun afterwards search for Leslie Fish “hosedown” heh.


  • Laird

    I can’t argue with any of that, Ian. Still, it was an amazing moment, for those of us who were there (electronically, that is).

  • Ray

    Slightly off-topic, but here’s a link to a song celebrating the spirit of 1969. This track -from the current Eisenhowers album ‘Film your own Atrocities’- uses the tale of an attempted seduction to look at why the optimism generated by the space race of the sixties appears to have been lost. The video footage has been ‘borrowed’ in the spirit of celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the moon landings.

  • Paul Marks

    Some of my most early memories are of Mr Armstrong arriving on the Moon.

    Contract me with the details of the gathering you are planning J.P. – and I will see if I can attend (if I am welcome of course).

    I have not been to London for a long time.

  • I was a small child, and the Landing was a family TV event. I remember it fairly well. As amazing as it was, I wish unmanned spaceflight would be the primary focus of space exploration. We learned quite a lot more from Voyager and the other probes than we did from Apollo. Alas, the public probably won’t support the space program without live astronauts to cheer for.

  • John K

    The moon landing is the first memory I have. I recall being brought down from bed by my parents and made to watch the grainy images on the TV. I didn’t know what I was watching at the time, but looking back I think there are worse things to have as a first memory. Mind you, it did not change my life much. A few months later, my sister was born. Now that was a big event in my little world!

  • To The Sanity Inspector:

    It isn’t about exploration. It is about extending the range and longevity of the human species(and others).

    As far as we know the universe is dead, except for Earth. It may be up to us to bring it the gift of life.

    Read Oriana Fallaci’s book “If the Sun Dies”. Particularly the interview with Ray Bradbury.

  • Nuke Gray!

    The new Covenant- don’t just take care of the garden of Eden, but boldly go where even God has not gone before! Wow! Extending life to ‘dead’ planets! They don’t know how lucky they are, virgin worlds just waiting to be inseminated deeply with Earth Seed, whole planets frustrated until we come to them! Who needs viagra when there are untouched worlds to touch?

  • John K

    Why Nuke, if they are untouched, who’s going to complain? Mind you, I can quite imagine the likes of PETA, Gaia enthusiasts and other wearers of knitted yogurt garments using law suits, “direct action” and all the rest of their tedious bullshit to try and prevent mankind “infecting” other planets with our presence. They’d probably still be trying it as our sun turns into a red dwarf. I do hope they get left behind to comtemplate their oneness with nature.