One not so small step

Today is the 40th anniversary of the first moon walk, when Neil Armstrong laid aside his trumpet (that was Louis Armstrong - Ed) and gave his immortal 'One small step' speech. The Apollo missions were controlled by computers that had less processing power than a calculator, and yet the Apollo 11 mission was a success. The men came home safely and the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong, was free to retire to a life of obscurity, turning down interviews and ignoring requests for autographs.

I remember getting up early at stupid o'clock to watch that 'one small step' live on an old black and white TV set. The pictures were grainy, and the images ghostlike, but to a small lad sat in a Shetland Island croft in the still of a summer morning, it was quite magical. Compared to today's technological achievements, communication technology was fairly primitive. 1969 was 20 years pre-web. Satellites were still in their infancy. Today we would follow every step of such a monumental event on news feeds, watch live high resolution images on Sky News or CNN and talk about it as it was happening across our social networks on Twitter and Facebook.

There were things we didn't find out until a lot later. For example, 'that one small step for man' wasn’t quite as small as was made out. Neil Armstrong set the lunar module down so gently that the shock absorbers didn’t compress enough. He then had to jump down 3 and a half feet from the Eagle’s ladder to the surface. Later, when Buzz Aldrin emerged to join Armstrong on the moon's surface, he had to make sure not to lock the door because there was no outer handle! Most embarrassingly, when the lander separated from the orbiter, the cabin wasn’t fully depressurized, which resulted in a burst of gas, throwing the landing module four miles off its target. There were other minor disasters we didn't hear about, but at the time, it was more than enough for this 12 year old lad that man was actually walking on the moon.

Image source

Comments

AJC said…
But the damage lives on: http://scienceoftheinvisible.blogspot.com/2009/07/reaping-damage-of-apollo.html
Paul Richardson said…
I remember this too, and what you have said really resonates. It actually didn't matter that all the images were fuzzy and the sound was crackly. What amazes me just now though, is how this achievement seems even greater from where we stand now, than it did at the time. I am enjoying the re-run at http://wechoosethemoon.org/
Sarah Stewart said…
My memories of that night: http://sarah-stewart.blogspot.com/2009/07/my-memories-of-moon-landing.html
Nick Sharratt said…
It was an amazing mind boggling achievement. I was quite old enough to be able to remember the landing itself, but I grew up fully expecting us to be on Mars by 2000, and for holidays in space to be common place.

Instead, it is the communications and computing technologies which have developed beyond most imaginations and the physical slinging of people info space has stalled instead. It can probably be argued that despite the scope of the moon landing, it is the other technical developments which have made a much greater impact on society as a whole (for bad as well as good in some cases).

Imagine if More's law applied to space travel too though! Travelling roughly 2^20 times further than the moon, or that much cheaper :-)

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