A few years back I went to
It was strange standing on the launch pad where as a boy I’d watched the Apollo missions take off from our old green sofa on the even older black and white TV. Even stranger seeing the landing module I’d drawn so many times in junior school.
The wild excitement I exhibited at touching a small triangular piece of moon rock in an exhibition case at the Kennedy centre with my bare fingers was almost embarrassing - no, not almost, it was embarrassing. But I didn't care - I was touching the moon.
I even got the chance to sit in a blackened corrugated capsule from the Gemini Rocket. It was tinny and tiny, but I was a spaceman at last! God knows how anyone could sit in there for even an hour, let alone for days in the emptiness of outer space. Just how could anyone sit on top of an exploding bomb in a tin can and be hurled out into the unknown?
Such brave men those astronaughts.
Back then we were all going to be astronaughts, spacemen as we called them. Back then the moon was just a stepping stone to Mars and we were all going to travel to the stars and live in space stations high above the Earth or on the Moon like in Space 1999. Of course none of it happened, but for a while back then everybody believed it could and even would.
So here we are almost 40 years on from the Eagle landing. 1999 has come and gone and we don’t even go to the moon any more, let alone live on it. Space exploration seems a distant memory, the stuff of science fiction once more and not the almost reality it almost was. All the spacemen have grown up and become bankers, engineers, accountants, postmen, failed artists, doctors, and no more capsules parachute down into the sea to be picked up by waiting US warships.
‘They’re down!’ We’d cry as we huddled around the television in the living room.
On the NASA website it states – ‘At the core of NASA's future in space exploration is a return to the moon, where we will build a sustainable, long-term human presence. As the space shuttle approaches retirement, NASA is building the next fleet of vehicles to service the International Space Station and return humans to the moon, and possibly to Mars and beyond.’
I hope so, although I don’t like the sound of the ‘possibly’ in that last sentence. It’ll be too late for me though. I’ll never explore strange new worlds, seeking out new life and new civilizations, boldly going where no man has gone before. But at least I was there when it was real and exciting, marvelling at the grainy pictures coming all the way from the moon, living, eating, and breathing the excitement of a space travelling future – what have today’s kids got to compare that too?
At least I touched the moon - and I don’t just mean that piece of rock in the exhibition case.