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Saturday, 20 July 2019

The Eagle has landed ... fifty years on

Fifty years ago today, I - and what seemed like the entire population of the UK - sat up into the early hours to watch the Moon Landing and the subsequent 'first step'.

The first step, as seen on TV across the world. My memory is that it was not that clear a picture, but that might have been due to the fact that I think that we watched it on an old 405-line monochrome TV and not one of the 'new' 625-line colour ones.*
It came only a relatively short time after the Cuban Missile Crisis had seen the world go to, and the pull back from, the brink of nuclear war, and President John F Kennedy had been assassinated. The landing seemed to be the beginning of a new age of optimism ... but within a few years interest in manned space exploration appeared to evaporate.

One wonders what our world might now be like if that initial enthusiasm had been maintained. Would the Cold War between East and West have persisted and taken on a new dimension in space, or would the world's nations come together to look outwards to explore our Solar system?

We'll never know what might have been ... but it looks as if manned space exploration beyond Earth's orbit might just be on the horizon. I do hope so ... and I'd love to sit up late again to see another human set foot on the Moon or possibly even Mars.

* The UK TV systems were in the process of changing over from 405-line to 625-line analogue TV transmissions in 1969. It was not until November 1969 that the BBC and ITV stopped producing programmes in 405-line format, although they did continue to rebroadcast 625-line programmes in the old format for the benefit of viewers who still had old, monochrome TV receivers.

The demise of analogue TV transmissions in the UK in 2012 made the 'old' 625-line TV receivers redundant ... which means that anyone born after November 1998 (when the UK first began transmitting digital terrestrial TV signals) probably has no idea what I have been waffling on about!

16 comments:

  1. One thing I clearly remember is that when the first picture appeared on our TV screen it was transmitted upside down, not sure if this was NASA or the BBC but it took a few minutes to correct. I could never understand why they didn't go to mars within the next few years but I think I failed to appreciate the cost! I agree that it would be nice to see a return to the moon in our lifetime as 50 years is ancient history to kids today.

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    1. Stryker,

      Funnily enough, my memory was that the TV picture quality was so poor that the image could well have been upside down when the transmission started,

      I think that the Vietnam War may have had a serious indirect effect upon the NASA space programme. As more and more young men returned home from the war dead or damaged, the USA seemed to lose enthusiasm for exploring space, and became inward looking and much more interested in sorting out its domestic problems. By the end of the trips to the Moon, fewer and fewer people were bothering to watch the TV coverage. Even the Apollo 13 near-disaster only revived the interest in space for a short time.

      The Space Shuttle made travel into Earth orbit appear to be much simpler than it actually was (the two disasters reminded us that it wasn't just like catching a bus into orbit!) but its missions were mainly Earth-related rather than outward looking. It is only recently - with the growing commercial interest in space exploration - that going back to the Moon - and possibly to Mars - has re-emerged as a goal.

      Fifty years ago is ancient history to a lot of people. I was born in 1950, only five years after the end of the Second World War and thirty two after the First World War! They seemed very recent to me when I was a child ... but nowadays a child would think of them being a long time ago.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  2. I remember seeing Kubrick's "20001 A Space Odessey" the previous year and thinking the scenes on the Moon would almost certainly become reality. What a disappointment! In a way the Russians have become the winners of "The Space Race" not by a "sprint" like the US but a "marathon" - building up their experience of space construction and long time living in orbit. With the Soyuz spacecraft the only way to get up and down to the IISS.

    Apologies for going off topic but earlier today the Lulu editions of "A Winter-ish War" and "Trouble in Zubia" arrived. I was really impressed by the quality of production, the clarity of the photos and maps. I also like the larger format. Perhaps you might do something similar in the future. However these two volumes are already providing suitable stimulation and inspiration. Well done.

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    1. David Bradley,

      I think that a lot of us (particularly those brought up in the era of THE EAGLE and DAN DARE) imagined that by now we would be living in colonies on the Moon, and would have travelled at least as far as Mars.

      The Russian 'slow but steady' approach has achieved results, but it is interesting to note that as far as non-orbital manned spaceflight is concerned, they don't seem to have show any inclination to progress down that path. Perhaps they are waiting for one of their oligarchs to take the first step, especially if it brings with it the likelihood of wealth from the exploitation of the moon's resources.

      I am very pleased to read that you have enjoyed A WINTER-ISH WAR and TROUBLE IN ZUBIA. I like the larger format and the fact that I can use colour, and I have just released paperback editions of each book that will be on sale on Amazon etc., in the very near future. I will certainly think about whether or not to produce further books in this format, perhaps as an alternative to cheaper monochrome versions. A 'collectors' edition perhaps? It's certainly something worth considering.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  3. Very informative Bob. I was still quite young but the Lunar missions made a big impression on me.
    Black & White TVs with only 3 channels that were only working for a few hours a day... you try telling young people to day and they won't believe you!

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    1. Maudlin Jack Tar,

      Cheers!

      I'm so old that I can remember being invited into our next door neighbour's house to see the 'new' channel ... ITV!

      The BBC were so worried about the competition that they scheduled a major plot event to take place in their flagship programme on the same evening that ITV was launched. THE ARCHERS was their top show for listener numbers, and they 'killed off' Grace Archer in a fire.

      The BBC used to shut down after children's programming ended so that parents could feed their children and get them ready for bed before evening programmes were broadcast.

      Try telling this to people under the age of forty and they will certainly have problems believing you; tell it to anyone in their twenties, and they think that you are telling porkies!

      All the best,

      Bob

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  4. I watched it in a cafe in the South of France with my family, as we were on holiday, at about 4.00 in the morning. My uncle Len bought a colour TV at about this time and it cost £400 (it did come in an antique style cabinet, though). Dynatron, I think.

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    1. Legatus Hedlius,

      It was one of those events that are so memorable that you can always remember where you were when they happened.

      I was at work in 1969, and earned £750.00 per annum. You uncle Len's colour TV cost more than six months of my salary ... and I was working in the world of private banking in The Strand, and was being paid well above the average salary for someone of my age!

      All the best,

      Bob

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  5. Odd how small personal things can interfere with memories of major events. I was "down" in the country with cousins and we had ordered pizza while waiting for the landing. It was late arriving and I was so hungry that as a young teen will do, I ate too much, too fast, and then felt sick. It was in that state that I watched the actual landing and as much as I longed to remember it clearly, after the decades, the trivial transitory personal memory is clearer than the momentous event. But at least I WAS there watching!!

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    1. Ross Mac,

      As I said in a previous comment, it was one of those momentous events that you will always remember, along with where you were and what you were doing ... even if it was feeling sick after eating too much pizza too quickly!

      I hope that it didn't put you off pizza!

      All the best,

      Bob

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  6. I guess my memory is poorer than some. I am sure I watched it live, but for me it's hard to tease out the memories of the actual day from all of the subsequent media, re-broadcasts or the landing, clips of it used in all sorts of media, or fictionalized tv/movie version. I couldn't tell you where I was or what sort of tv I watched it on or anything. I would have been a young teen.

    Still, it left some sort of impression on me, and I've always been fascinated by space exploration since the early days of my youth watching space launches on tv sets at elementary school (grades 1 to 6 in the US). It's true (and a bit sad) that we haven't sent any more people to the moon or beyond since the end of the Apollo program. But we have done lots of space exploration by other means. And I still find it awe-inspiring, whether it's fly-by missions, landers, exploration by telescopes and other instruments in orbit or on the ground on earth. We're always finding new and interesting and even surprising things.

    (There was the US tv series, "Space 1999", which posited a permanent moon base by that time-frame. Maybe there will be some day. Or will it be like "flying cars", an eternal future that we never quite reach?)

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    1. Fitz-Badger,

      I suspect that your recollection of the event may be a truer one than the rest of us would admit to. Since writing my original blog entry, my wife has told me that she remembers the moon landing happening, but very little else.

      Anyone brought up in the 1950s and 1960s would have been had put not to have been influenced by the so-called 'Space Race' and predictions of what space exploration was going to be like. I certainly remember books like THE BOYS BOOK OF SPACE and numerous models and toys that were space-related being on sale. Space ray guns shared shelf space in toy shops with six-shooters, and plastic spaceman's helmets were advertised in some children's comics.

      I always had the EAGLE comic, whose cover was devoted to stories about DAN DARE: PILOT OF THE FUTURE. He was a member of Earth's Space Force (which in many ways bore an uncanny resemblance to the wartime RAF in different-coloured uniforms!). He visited Mars, which was populated by three races; a green-skinned humanoid reptilian race called the 'Treens' that were led by an evil large-brained dictator called the Mekon; Atlantines, blue-skinned people whose ancestors had came from Earth 100,000 years previously; and the very human-like Therons.

      The EAGLE also had a two-page, centre-spread which was a cutaway drawing of something mechanical, which sparked a life-long interest in understanding how things work.

      We have done some marvellous unmanned space exploration over the last fifty years, but somehow going as far as the Moon and no further always seemed to be a bit of an anticlimax. I hope that I will see some manned space exploration during what remains of my lifetime ... but somehow I doubt that I will.

      All the best,

      Bob

      PS. Sorry to disillusion you, but SPACE 1999 was made in the UK by Gerry Anderson's company for Sir Lew Grade's Incorporated Television Company (ITC), or ITC Entertainment. It starred two American actors - Martin Landau and Barbara Bain - in the hope that it would sell to a US TV network. As to flying cars ... well anything would be better than sitting in a traffic jam on one of the UK's increasingly crowded motorways!

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  7. Hi Bob,
    My recollection of the Moon Landing is being in High School and a large number of our Classes were gathered together in front of the Science Buildings Veranda to watch a B&W Television- I was too far back in the crowd of pupils and couldn't make out anything or hear what was going on...though later I caught up with it all through our Newspaper. In one of the Newspapers there was a celebratory 'Decal' which Mum ironed onto my 'T' Shirt with NASA on it...I marveled that the Astronaughts had made it and how risky and dangerous it all was there in space. Yes, going back 50 years...I'm wondering where all the time has gone and I feel so damn old. I remember well back then looking up at the Moon on a clear night and saying to myself "Man has been to there- WOW!" Regards. KEV.

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    1. Kev Robertson (Kev),

      Where have those fifty years gone? On some days they seem as if they were yesterday; and on other days, as if they are ancient history.

      For people ‘of a certain age’ the moon landings were the harbinger of what we hoped would be a golden age ... but it wasn’t long before that dream died.

      What do we have now? The ability to instantly communicate with almost anyone in the world ... but to also have very little of value to share. ‘Famous’ people who are famous for appearing on unrealistic ‘reality’ TV shows, and not for actually doing anything of true value. Politicians for whom the word honour counts for nothing, and who willingly lie and cheat to keep their place on the gravy train.

      How I wish that we could return to those heady days of optimism. At least we had them (which I sometimes think the younger generation sadly lacks) and can remember them, and savour that memory.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  8. It was a remarkable day and achievement. What is amazing is those who believe it was an elaborate hoax that n ever happened. Kind of pathetic!

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    1. Gonsalvo,

      It was a truly momentous event.

      My respect for Buzz Aldrin rose to even greater heights when I saw him 'deal' with a landing-denier!

      All the best,

      Bob

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