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

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

 

i Editor's Letter: Still all to play for at our live iDebate

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering