John Lichfield: The night I saw a real-life Dan Dare make history

Share
Related Topics

I was there. I saw Neil Armstrong take his giant leap for mankind. I was half-asleep in my parents' living room in a village in North Staffordshire. The rest of the family had gone to bed. I insisted on staying awake. Just about.

My memories, 43 years on, are as vague as the flickering, black-and-white television images of the time. But I do remember that I nearly missed the moment.

It must have been around 4am, North Staffs standard time, before Armstrong emerged from the Eagle. I woke just in time to see a ghostly figure, who looked like the Michelin Man wearing a motorcycle helmet, descending the ladder. Was I excited? Yes, I suppose I was.

My 19-year-old self was not especially interested in space or in science. I was working for my local newspaper, the Leek Post and Times, before going to university. In a school debate two years earlier, I had argued against space exploration as a waste of money that would be better spent on the starving of Africa.

Still, part of me, brought up on Dan Dare and Dr Who, believed that space was our destiny. In my own lifetime – by some impossible date in the future, such as 2012 – we would all be travelling to the Moon. I wanted to be able to say that I had seen the historic moment when a man first stepped on to the surface. It would, after all, be like the first footfall of Christopher Columbus in the Americas: a moment that changed the course of human history. In any case, in 1969, even live TV broadcasts from the other side of the Atlantic were impressive and rare. This was a broadcast from the Moon.

Another part of me, the late-1960s-long-haired lefty, was determined not to be impressed. Armstrong's famous sentence seemed limp and scripted. The stiffened American flag that he planted in the Moon's surface struck me as imperialistic and absurd. Was this about mankind? Or about America? Forty-three years later, as a former US correspondent of this newspaper, I mourn Armstrong's passing and salute his courage. He seemed to be a modest, intelligent, well-balanced man: not at all Moon-struck.

But was he the modern Columbus? Hardly. Compared with the exaggerated expectations of the time, Moon exploration has turned out, so far, to be a cul-de-sac. Space exploration has given us satellite communications and made our world smaller, for good or bad. It has not yet shrunk the universe.

My last memory of that July morning in 1969 was that, before going to bed, I went outside and looked up at the Moon. I suppose millions of people all over the world did the same thing. Our giant companion in space seemed, somehow, to have been violated and diminished. Now when I look up at the Moon, it seems to have reclaimed its virginity and regained its mystery. A small step for man; a giant leap for Moon-kind.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

2nd Line server support - Microsoft certified

£25000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our large organisa...

English Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: English Teacher Required for Oct...

Mandarin Teacher

£120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you qualified Mandarin Teache...

Junior Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

£23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The app is due to be launched in San Francisco initially, with other 300 people currently on the waiting list  

Is it too much to ask that people turn up to meet you when they say they will?

Simon Kelner
Dylan Thomas drank himself to death in New York aged just 39  

All this Dylan Thomas fever is telling us only half the story

John Walsh
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?