This week marks 46 years since the Apollo 11 moon landing, described by Barack Obama upon the death of Neil Armstrong as a “moment of human achievement that will never be forgotten”.
We are all living with some remnant of the technology that had to be developed for this huge achievement. It made the world sit up and watch in awe at the heroic deeds of Neill Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and the almost always forgotten Michael Collins who was left piloting the Command Module
They left for the moon perched on the top of a Saturn V rocket from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on July 16th 1969. Once in orbit the astronauts travelled for three days until they entered into lunar orbit. Armstrong and Aldrin then moved into the Lunar Module and landed in the Sea of Tranquillity.
They stayed a total of about 21 1⁄2 hours on the lunar surface before lifting off in the upper part of the Lunar Module and re-joining Collins in the Command Module. They returned to Earth and landed in the Pacific Ocean on July 24.
What amazes me still is that these extraordinary people really did go were no man had gone before, they had no idea if they would survive and that does take a special type of commitment.
But What if it had gone wrong? those who know me know that I am a plan B kind of guy , the type at meetings who says if it doesn’t work what are we going to do?
NASA had every eventuality covered even down to the presidents reaction in case of the unthinkable happened. This is probably the best speech never made by a president. The speech released by the US National Archives which reveals what the president at the time, Richard Nixon, would have delivered to the world if all had not gone to plan.
Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.
These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.
These two men are laying down their lives in mankind’s most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding.
They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be mourned by their nation; they will be mourned by the people of the world; they will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown.
In their exploration, they stirred the people of the world to feel as one; in their sacrifice, they bind more tightly the brotherhood of man.
In ancient days, men looked at stars and saw their heroes in the constellations. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood.
Others will follow, and surely find their way home. Man’s search will not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts.
For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.
The speech, written by William Safire who would later become a columnist at the New York Times, is a remarkable piece of writing, factual but almost poetic.
What is even more incredible is that Collins would have had to return to earth on his own knowing that the other two had been lost, now that is something that no amount of training can prepare you for.
I am fortunate to be of an age where I can remember the excitement of the space race, the astronaut’s, the engineers and the epic accomplishments that made me think as a teenager anything is possible.
I have sat and thought about that time on more than one occasion since and unfortunately as a species we have never had the opportunity to shine as we did in that bygone age of space exploration.