This post has been a long time coming.
A more organised person would have written and published this exactly a year ago. Sadly I am not that person and it takes me a little longer to get around to things.
The memories outlined below go back way before last year. I thought it was time to dump them somewhere, more for myself than anyone, but hopefully they might be of interest to others.
As I type this, it is exactly 51 years since the Apollo 11 mission.
Specifically, this is where it was as I started the entry ( from the excellent https://apolloinrealtime.org/11 ).
And as I am about to hit publish it is July 21st and 51 years ago Armstrong and Aldrin were sleeping in the LM on the lunar surface with Collins sleeping in the CM in lunar orbit.
Last year was the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 and I spent quite a bit of time celebrating in different ways.
First, a bit of context…
I was born in April 1957 which made me just over 13 during the Apollo 11 mission. At the time that I was born no objects made by people, let alone people themselves, had been into Space. There was :
No Internet, No Web, No WiFi, No Personal Computers, No Digital Cameras.
Yet I was just the right age to appreciate the wonder of space travel and Astronomy.
Patrick Moore and the TV program “The Sky at Night” (which had first been broadcast the day after my birth) helped me develop an active interest in Astronomy. Elsewhere on this site you can find another article which illustrates that influence. As a kid, I had a small 70mm refractor and spent a lot of time looking at the Moon as well as Sunspots (via projection) and the easier to spot planets.
In 1968, I went to see “2001 A Space Odyssey” at the Palace Cinema in Aldershot. I loved the film and it left quite an impression on the 12-year old me in terms of a life long interest in space exploration that had started (no surprise) via several books from the Ash library.
50 years later, in April 2018, I saw “2001” again with a live orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall which was a whole other experience. Following, in May, I saw the restored 70mm roadshow presentation at the Picturehouse Cinema in London, complete with interval and curtains opening and closing at the beginning and end. It was a real cinematic experience. Then I purchased and watched the BlueRay edition for good measure. Later, in September 2019, I went to the Stanley Kubrick exhibition at the Design Centre in London where they had a lot of props and memorabilia from the film.
If you want the behind-the-scenes stories of the film, I can thoroughly recommend the book “Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke and the making of a Masterpiece” by Michael Benson .
In December 1968, I followed Apollo 8 day-by-day on its trip around the Moon via newspapers and the limited TV coverage. Many years later, I was lucky enough to meet Jim Lovell at a Sun Microsystems management event where he signed my copy of his book “Lost Moon” about Apollo 13.
The Daily Mirror printed a large moon map in 1969. It also had cut out flags for the USA and Russia to plot future landings 🙂 . It was such a big deal for me that I went into Aldershot on the bus with my Mum to Gale & Polden’s, the printers, to get a large white board and hauled it home on the bus to paste the map onto it.
Then, I entered a competition that the Mirror ran and I actually won a really nice Hallwag-Bern Moon map (see more on that below).
Much later, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Sky At Night (and my 50th birthday) I also got a signed copy of Patrick Moore’s 1969 Moon Map which is still a treasured possession.
My collection of Moon memorabilia also included a really nice info pack “Touchdown on the Moon – Spacecraft Commander’s Briefing Pack”. Sadly this was lost but this is some of what it contained and I managed to find images and pdfs of most of it online.
Earlier in 1969 my Grandad bought me a really nice Revell Saturn V / Apollo 1/96 model in Guildford that unfortunately a fire destroyed along with my newspaper cuttings from the Apollo flights. However, the Life magazine from Apollo 11 still survives.
Working in Houston in 1982, I visited the Space Center there. At that time, the focus was much more around the Space Shuttle but I did get to visit Mission Control. In 2002, I finally toured the Kennedy Space Center in Florida with friends and family. In addition to seeing the VAB, Pad39A etc. I got to stand on the Apollo 11 gantry as well!
For my 60th birthday my brother, Gary, bought me a replacement vintage Revell Saturn V kit that I had great fun building in July 2017.
They even have one in the Smithsonian 🙂 .
So, now to 2019, the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, the landing of the first humans on the Moon!
During my annual pilgrimage to AstroFest in Kensington in February, David Eicher and Brian May presented an excellent session on their book “Mission Moon 3-D”. In April we went to Washington and had a trip to the National Air and Space Museum, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Centre.
Lots of great stuff there includes the mobile quarantine facility used by the Apollo 11 crew on their return.
A few years back (2012) I had also visited the main Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington when the Apollo 11 Command Module (Columbia) was there, along with one of the unflown Lunar Modules.
Forward to June 2019. We took a trip to our fourth Starmus event in Zurich.
The only one we’ve missed was the first one with Neil Armstrong in attendance.
The theme of Starmus V was “A Giant Leap” around the Apollo missions.
Several Apollo astronauts attended:
- Charlie Duke
- Buzz Aldrin
- Harrison Schmitt
- Walt Cunningham
- Al Worden
- Rusty Schweikard
Gerry Griffin, who was one of the flight controllers on Apollo, also attended and presented as well as John Logsdon, who is a historian of the US space program. I met John and subsequently bought his book “The Penguin Book of Outer Space Exploration”. A really interesting book around the politics and background story of the space race.
12 people have walked on the Moon. Only 4 are still alive (as of July 2020) and 3 of them were at this event: Duke, Aldrin and Schmitt. Dave Scott is the fourth. Though he was not at Starmus V, Dave Scott did a book signing I attended (at what was then Ottakar’s bookstore in Camberley in May 2004). Book signings also led me to meet Buzz Aldrin in London in June 2016 and Charlie Duke at a previous Starmus.
Starmus V featured a showing of “Apollo 11” with the Director and Apollo astronauts in attendance. Quite an experience.
A discussion panel preceded the movie and included:
- Neil Armstrong’s son, Rick
- Alexei Leonov’s daughter, Oksana
(I met Alexei, the first spacewalker at a previous Starmus – he died in October 2019 )
- Todd Miller, the director of the Apollo 11 film
- Stephen Slater who did a lot of work on the archive stuff for the film and worked on Ben Feist’s wonderful “Apollo 11 in Real Time” site – great interview here .
- Damien Chazelle, the director of the film “First Man”
- James Hansen, who wrote “First Man” – the biography of Neil Armstrong on which Chazelle’s film was based
Leading up to the actual 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 I went to several films and events including…
- Summer of Space (Science Museum)
I went to see “Apollo 11 First Steps” at the IMAX there on 8th July. Fantastic film. While we had been lucky enough to see this at Starmus during a showing with the Director and the Apollo astronauts present, I wanted to see the IMAX version and it was worth it.
I also took in some of the other exhibits I had seen before: Apollo 10, Saturn V F1 engine, Lunar Module, Moonrock etc)
- The Museum of the Moon (Natural History Museum)
- The following day (9th July) I went to see the documentary “Armstrong” which was done as a UK premier with an introduction transmission by Dara O’Briain and Armstrong’s other son Mark.
- The Moon, 19th July (National Maritime Museum Greenwich) + Royal Greenwich Observatory
There are, of course, no photos or recordings of the then 12-year old me doing anything Apollo 11 related. I did watch Apollo 11 live on the TV. My parents allowed me to stay up late and I watched it on the tiny, by today’s standards, TV in the corner of the living room.
As Apollo 11 landed, I scribbled down notes of what was being said in a spiral ring bound reporter’s notebook (long since gone).
Here a summary of what British TV was doing for the event.
Technology has come a long way. Very few days go by now where I (and millions of other people) do not take at least one photo (and probably many). Back in 1969 you had to choose which 12, 24 or 36 photos you wanted to take and then wait days to see if any of them turned out and you had to pay per print. The whole culture was to be very selective over taking photos. Now pretty much everybody has a camera on their phone and the processing and storage of those photos is effectively free.
On the actual 50th anniversary of the launch and the flight all the way through to splashdown back on Earth, (16-24 July), I followed along on the real-time Apollo site, NASA TV and with various Augmented Reality apps like “JFK Moonshot” on my phone,
This is what it would have been like if I had today’s technology back then…
- NASA TV broadcasting the ‘as live’ footage on the NASA App on Apple TV on a Samsung HD TV.
- The excellent ‘Apollo 11 Live’ web page on a MacBook Pro.
- The JFK Moonshot AR App on an iPhone XS (also taking this snapshot).
As well as the films mentioned above (First Man, Apollo 11, Armstrong) there were many programs and series on TV for the 50th anniversary and I immersed myself in all of them.
- 8 Days: To the Moon and Back
- Moon Launch Live
- The Sky at Night : The Moon, the Mission and the BBC (BBC4)
- Stargazing – Moon Landing Special (BBC1)
- Space Race: Race for Satellites, Race for Survival, Race to the Moon, Race for Rockets
- Chasing the Moon (BBC4)
- The Day we Walked on the Moon (ITV)
- Rise of the Rockets (PBS America)
- Space Age : NASA’s story (PBS America)
- Space Race: Race for Satellites, Race for Survival, Race to the Moon, Race for Rockets
- 13 minutes to the Moon (podcasts) – really good.
They did another set for Apollo 13.
- James Burke: Our Man on the Moon
Although I already had a ton of books on this subject, I acquired just a few more that came out.
- Apollo 11
- Chasing the Moon (The book of the PBS/BBC 4 series above)
- The Moon (Royal Greenwich Observatory
– see exhibit mentioned above)
Over the summer, I re-read my copy of Mike Collin’s “Carrying the Fire” from the 40th Anniversary, justly regarded as the best of the Astronaut biographies.
I also have a copy of Reg Turnhill’s book “The Moonlandings”. Reg was the BBC’s aerospace correspondent all through Apollo. I was lucky enough to meet him and his wife at AstroFest 2009 when he signed my copy of his book. A really nice man, he died in 2013 so neither he nor Patrick Moore were able to celebrate the 50th anniversary as Patrick died at the end of 2012.
Even the British press stepped up and marked the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of Apollo 11.
To wrap up my summer of Apollo 11, I visited the exhibition “Mapping of the Moon 1669-1969” on July 25th at The Map House in London. https://blog.themaphouse.com/2019/06/04/the-mapping-of-the-moon-1669-1969/
They had some great maps including the Hallwag Bern map that I had as a kid (see earlier in this article). It seems the map is now worth a lot more than when I was a kid 🙂 . My copy was either misplaced or was destroyed in the fire. A good summary of the exhibition is here .
While there, I saw a great Moon globe which I subsequently purchased. It uses really cool technology to spin using light and magnets. It is one of my favorite souvenirs of the summer of Apollo.
There is more that I may add later but this seems like a good summary of my “Summer of Apollo” and the lead-up to it. I aim to put some of the photos up in an album on my Flickr account so take a look there as well.
I am very grateful for the fact that I was born at the right time to experience our first steps into space. The world is a different place now in so many ways and there will be new missions and discoveries that I hope to follow but for me at least this was an amazing time to be alive.