Fifty years ago today, we reached out from our planet and landed a manned spacecraft on the Moon. Neil Armstrong became the first human being to stand on the surface of another body in this Universe. I was a thirteen year old boy who had grown up on Dan Dare. We sat in front of the television that evening, the Sunday evening of 19 July for us in the UK, watching an animated Moonlander descend against a backdrop of stars until, with an ironicly unexciting ending, it stopped on a lunar landscape.
The actual moment when Commander Armstrong descended the ladder came during our night. I was thirteen, almost at the end of my third year at Burnage High School, with a bedtime of ten o’clock (or was it still nine?), and school in the morning. I was asleep when it happened. I never even thought to ask my parents if I could get up for the actual moment we walked on the Moon. There are few things I regret more than not even asking.
Maybe it means more to me now than it would back then, the Eagle-loving kid, who was one of that generation that expected things to get better forever, maybe it means more now that I know we stopped going to the Moon in 1973 and those who remember that day are growing fewer.
There were critics then, there are critics still, of then and any thought of now, and they have a valid point about the problems we have on our planet and the futility of spreading our presence further. But even if it was a political and military race that lost its point once America outstripped Russia, the Moon and Space were pointers for our generation, the very symbol of Optimism, the outward surge, the confidence in ourselves, the thing that said that nothing is beyond us.
Fifty years ago, we slipped the surly bounds of earth. Where have we gone?