Just in

Who are we – and what are we doing here?

Beginning my daily review of the news websites this morning I was still reflecting upon last night’s Channel Four documentary Moon Landing Live broadcast at 8.00pm which I happened to watch in the company of a forty-nine year lady and my son Barry who is thirty-seven.

It was a fascinating experience, no doubt partly due to our different ages and perspectives, but also to the fact there has been so much media coverage to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the first human visit to the Moon that it seemed, in one form or another, I’d already seen every frame of contemporary footage featured in the programme before, my only problem being that – due to ravages of time and memory – I wasn’t able to identify whether I’d first seen it 1969 or at some other time since then, right up to and including yesterday!

I guess the only conclusion to reach is that – when it comes to it there are no hard facts in history (well, very very few) – that humanity’s view of everything and anything is fundamentally  influenced by the personal experience and subjective perspective of everyone who has ever lived.

One man’s just war, benign colonialism or healthy Western democracy is or can be someone else’s unjust war, self-interested naked exploitation and the law of the proverbial jungle writ large and chaotic.

“Fake news” is the current buzz-word in the Trump era but – as I toured the internet today flicking past the latest on Brexit, Boris, the political/diplomatic crisis over Iran and all the other craziness – it occurred to me that maybe nothing ever changes.

Our little grouping last night watched the Channel Four documentary transfixed in wonder and awe at the achievement that the Apollo 11 mission represented.

Personally I have a vague recollection of watching BBC television coverage of all the Apollo missions – most of it in black and white if I’m correct – fronted by the likes of Sky At Night frontman Patrick Moore and from-nowhere ‘space expert’ James Burke (had he previously been a reporter on Raymond Baxter’s Tomorrow’s World?).

One of the most exciting was the first of them to actually leave the Earth’s orbit and travel to the Moon.

To hear the astronauts talking live about their work and what they could see as they arrived at and then orbited the Moon was a spell-binding experience. As for me – no doubt in common with millions of others – was ‘experiencing’ their spacecraft disappear behind the Moon after one of several orbits (totally out of contact for about 20 minutes) and waiting with baited breath to learn whether the astronauts had been able to fire their rockets successfully and thus make the return journey to Earth at all.

For the past three months minimum, as the big anniversary approached, I’ve been racking my brains trying to recall exactly where I was when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin separated from Columbia in ‘The Eagle’, descended to the Moon’s surface and eventually came out and stood on it.

I watched the whole thing live (or think I did).

Recently I have often been asked about where I was and what I was doing at the time but I just cannot remember.

Was I at school, was I at home with my parents … and, in terms of UK time, at what point in the day of 20th July 1969 did the first Moon walk happen? Middle of the day – or at night?

Nothing. Zip. Nadda. I shall never know the truth unless someone tells me.

And who the hell that is still alive will be able to tell me the truth? Plus, if their memory is like mine (or worse) who could trust what they say anyway?

As hinted, my main reaction I was left with as the programme ended was near-incredulity at the scale of NASA’s achievement, especially when confronted with the all-too-apparent evidence (in modern terms) of the frighteningly-primitive technology that was available to it at the time as all those involved in the mission did what they did.

In one sense, living in the world as it is today, that realisation on its own boosted ten-fold my sense of awe at what ‘we’ (the human race) had managed to do – and have never done since – with the Apollo project.

My companions in front of the television last night had their own perspectives.

The lady, who happily confessed that for decades she had been able to convince herself that she had watched the Apollo 11 mission as it happened (even though she wasn’t born until a year after it took place) reacted to the documentary as if she was actually watching the descent to the lunar surface in ‘real time’.

As I did (a bit).

Barry, no less impressed by what he was watching, was more phlegmatic. He was fascinated by the technology and, when the lady (who is claustrophobic) commented that she could never have flown to the Moon and asked whether if invited he would have made the trip, responded in the affirmative.

His view was that our time on Earth is so short that the lure of journeying out into the Solar System was compelling: he’d happily volunteer to take part in a mission to Mars even if that meant – as apparently it will do – never coming back.

Last night’s programme on the Apollo 11 mission was all the more remarkable because of its ability to remind those watching it of the vastness of the universe and the insignificance of the speck of dust we live upon.



About William Byford

A partner in an international firm of loss adjusters, William is a keen blogger and member of the internet community. More Posts