Liam Nolan recalls July 20th, 1969, the day that changed the world as we know it, when three intrepid astronauts, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, landed on the Moon.
One July night in 1969 I walked out the front door of our house in St Albans in Hertfordshire, and stood looking up at the sky. I had just seen (on television) the first man ever to walk on the moon.
He was a 38-year-old American, a civilian astronaut named Neil Armstrong.
When he climbed backwards down the nine-rung ladder from the lunar module ‘Eagle’, he paused on the last rung. “The surface appears to be very, very fine-grained as you get close to it,” he said. “It’s almost like a powder.”
He had to make a small jump off the rung to put his left foot down on the moon’s surface. Six hundred million people on Earth heard him say, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
I tried to imagine what it was like up there a quarter of a million miles out in the blackness of space. It was futile — I had nothing to go on. So I went back indoors to look again at the screen on the box in the corner of the room.
This time I saw the second human being to walk on the moon. He climbed backwards down the same ladder. An American air force colonel, his name was Buzz Aldrin.
Earlier, just after ‘Eagle’ had touched down, Aldrin, a Presbyterian, said (and it was heard all over the Earth), “I’d like to request a moment of silence. I would like to invite each person listening…to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours, and to give thanks…”
He poured wine into a small vessel, ate a fragment of bread, and drank the wine — thus ‘took communion’. He was first human being to hold a religious ceremony on the moon.
He offered communion to Armstrong. “No,” said Armstrong. “I don’t believe so, but if that’s your thing, go ahead.”
Back home in Ireland, Teilifís Éireann started its daily broadcast at 6pm, as was normal in those days, and the Moon coverage programme started at 9pm, presented by Kevin O’Kelly.
A million sunglassed people on Florida’s Atlantic coast had earlier crammed into fields and onto beaches and roadways, and piled into boats on the waterways, including the Banana River. Over 350,000 cars and boats had brought them to watch the blast-off from the Kennedy Space Centre at Cape Canaveral.
Launch day was another hot Florida Wednesday, the heat topping 90 degrees by blast-off time, 9.32am.
Six hundred million other people around the world, staring at television sets, had heard the thunderous roar as the gigantic Saturn V rocket lifted off.
At 663 feet long, it remains the biggest, heaviest, and most powerful rocket ever developed. Powered by zillions of horsepower, it rose in a sheet of flame and clouds of smoke.
The bleachers for VIPs that morning were located at the closest viewing point to the action, but they were over three miles from Launch Pad 39-A. Among those on the bare plank bleachers was the Vice President of the USA, Spiro Agnew. The President, Richard Nixon, watched the blast off on a television in the Oval Office.