The future isn’t what it used to be…
Take all the excitement over America returning to manned spaceflight courtesy of Elon Musk’s SpaceX operation. Actually, not so much excitement as passing interest.
Sending a couple of astronauts to the International Space Station from American soil created a few headlines, a flurry of online posts about seeing the rocket zoom overhead and then back to business as usual. That’s enough space exploration. Have you seen this video of a cat?
It’s a far cry from the days when as a wee boy I was glued to every cough and sneeze of the Apollo missions, played out on a flickering black and white telly.
I wasn’t the only one. The planet watched.
I remember vividly my mum waking me up – it was around 3am in the morning – to come through and watch a man walk on the moon.
For some reason she was ironing (might have been my dad’s trousers before he went on the early morning shift) and was pressing trousers through a damp tea towel.
My memories of mankind’s first footsteps on another world are interspersed with the shhhhh sound of a hot iron hitting wet linen and the aromatic waft of steam that went with it.
“That’s one small step for man, (shhhh) one giant leap for mankind (waft, waft).”
Maybe she might have stopped if Neil Armstrong had actually plunged into a dust vortex (one possible theory at the time) or been met with little green men demanding to be taken to his leader.
I wanted to sit up for the rest of the night watching James Burke filling the long hours of not a lot happening, but was shunted off to bed. To dream of the great space adventure, no doubt.
To be honest I had been dreaming about it long before the Eagle had landed. After all, I was born in the year Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space. And him a bloomin’ Commie as well.
And that was the same year JFK announced before the decade was out, America would land a man on the moon and bring him home safely. Can’t have bloomin’ Commies doing what they like up there.
The lofty ideals Kennedy expressed (boy was always good with words) caught the zeitgeist of the times and the imagination of kids, like me, everywhere. If you asked me at that age what I wanted to be when I grew up, the answer was immediate. An astronaut.
And let’s not forget popular culture. From rocket shaped lollies – always liked a Zoom – to making spaceships out of Lego, to questionable fashion designs – have you seen Barbarella? I wasn’t allowed to – space was everywhere.
Jane Fonda as "Barbarella" (1968). Barbarella, an astronaut from the 41st century, sets out to find and stop the evil scientist Durand Durand, whose Positronic Ray threatens to bring evil back into the galaxy. pic.twitter.com/Xf5PJTJamr
— Jupiter Spurlock (@JupiterSpurlock) May 17, 2020
No more so than on Tomorrow’s World, where Raymond Baxter and James Burke were almost breathless about the wonders of exploring the solar system and beyond. Oh and the marvels NASA could bring to everyday life.
At this point I was going to sing the praises of Teflon pans and say that without Velcro, Buck’s Fizz would never have pulled off their skirt-whipping Eurovision win. But with extensive research for the purposes of this column (Google) I’ve discovered neither were invented by NASA scientists. They did make their mind up to use them (see what I did there) extensively, though.
Apollo 8 was the mission that hooked me in completely. That was the one where the famous Earthrise photo was taken, of our homeworld skimming the lunar landscape. Such was my sense of wonder I scarfed several boxes of Rice Krispies so I could send away for a free poster of it to put on my wall.
After that, the measured 10… 9… 8… 7… leading up to the roar of Saturn V rockets was as much part of my childhood as playing tig and not quite getting to grips with my times tables (although I could tell you they used the moon’s gravity as a slingshot to get the Apollo capsules home. Go figure).
I actually got up close
and personal with some
of said moon dust.”
I knew each mission patch (Apollo 11’s was the coolest but Apollo 9 was lame), each crew complement. I wanted a buzz cut. I wanted all systems to be go.
Once the Apollo 11 mission was done and dusted, I actually got up close and personal with some of said dust. The Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh had a display in late 1969 of some of the surface samples the astronauts had brought back.
Thousands of folk queued for hours to see it, me included. I was jumping up and down excitedly chattering to my mum about what it would look like and would you be able to touch it. What would the moon smell like? We eventually inched up to the glass case, looked in and saw… dust.
My awe was diminished. It was diminished further when my dad said it looked like something out of our Hoover bag at home. And this was before the nutbar conspiracy theory about the Apollo landings being a hoax.
In the Space Age
we no longer believed
in silly superstitions…
After that, the moon missions were just less and less special. They, and my interest, tailed off until grinding to a halt with Apollo 17 in 1972.
There was, of course, the drama of Apollo 13 limping home after the onboard explosion. I blame James Burke. I clearly remember him saying as the mission roared out of the Earth’s gravity well that in the Space Age we no longer believed in silly superstitions like 13 being unlucky. Nae luck Jimmy-boy.
It wouldn’t be the last thing he was wrong on. He and the Tomorrow’s World crew all promised wonders for the 21st century, like pills to keep us slim, a cure for hair loss and everyone having their own flying car.
So how come I’m a pudgy, bald guy with a Scotrail Club 50 card?
Anyway, back to SpaceX and the promise of future yet to come.
who still want to
I do hope my middle-aged cynicism is wrong and that there are kids out there following Elon Musk’s ventures the way I followed Neil Armstrong.
It would be nice to think there are misty-eyed dreamers who still want to be astronauts and not vloggers.