Monday, July 21, 2008

Opportunity lost

I've spent some time on the dissertation over the last week (after a work-induced break of the best part of a month) and it struck me that yet another anniversary of a momentous event passed virtually without comment yesterday.

On July 20th 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to step onto the surface of another world.

Their moon walk was witnessed by some 450 million people on earth with a similar number listening on the radio, primarily tuned to Voice of America. I was only five, but I can remember vividly my Dad getting me up to watch the BBC's through the night coverage, and then having a big fried breakfast as dawn broke over suburban Wembley.

At a time when the war in Vietnam was getting ever worse, when famine gripped Biafra, and while the Prague Spring was still a memory tinged with blood, the world united - all too briefly - in awe of man's achievements.

As the dissertation takes shape, I'm, still debating the reasons for America's journey to the moon. It's too simple to ascribe it solely to beating the Soviets - they were, effectively, out of the race from 1966. Yet the mix of nationalism, romanticism, and frontier spirit that drove Apollo remains nebulous.

Yet on July 20th 1969, it seemed that mankind could achieve anything. How sad that we lost that spirit of endeavour so quickly.

I'm looking forward to revisiting the Apollo period later this week when I interview the BBC's science correspondent of the time, James Burke. He's more of a bit of a hero of mine, but I'll have to put my 'fan' head to one side and button myself down as a historical researcher to pick up Burke's perspective of that unrepeated convergence in world history.

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