There are days when I gaze into a clear blue sky and there, in a corner, on the horizon, is the translucent Moon. It is there some days, others not. Just as with night, it is there most nights, sometimes a sliver, sometimes a luminous coin bringing light to the darkness.
For eons, men have kept pace with the changing year by the lunar cycles. That lunar year is 11 days shorter than the Roman calendar year we all now use. That’s a good thing – if my age were calculated on the lunar year, I would be almost two years older than I now am. That would mean ticking another box on those surveys for a more elderly age group. Then again, my car insurance might become a little cheaper for they say senior drivers are safer. Who are ‘they’ anyway?
Are you old enough by the Roman calendar to remember the day Neil Armstrong made that first footstep on the Moon?
I am. I won’t say that I remember it as if it were yesterday. It wasn’t. But I do remember being let stay up well past my bedtime.
I was on holiday in Wales, in a small resort town called Barmouth. During the days, when it was raining – it rains a lot in Wales in summers, autumns, winters and springs too – we would watch a train engine shunt rail wagons around the local railway yard. Sometimes we were given pennies as pocket money and sent away to the amusement arcades and funfair rides. Today, police would call that a financial inducement. Back then it was Mum and Dad trying to get some alone time. A second honeymoon?
It was Sunday evening as the excitement built as the little Lunar Module Eagle — it looked ever so much like a giant spider, adding to the wonder of it all to my little eight-year-old mind — was going to land on the Moon. The whole Apollo Moon programme was a technological wonder too. The sheer size of the rockets, the way it broke apart in stages, separating the Command Module from the Lunar Module. And it was all on television too, beamed from Houston to our little holiday home in a corner of Wales onto a grainy black-and-white television too.
There were animations that showed the Eagle’s descent that were state of the art back then. Now, they look more like something done with crayons and cardboard, as far from computer-generated reality as you could get. They say — whoever they are — that the computing power on the Apollo mission would fit into a calculator now.
The Eagle landed on the Moon at 20:17 that Sunday night. It seemed to take forever before that first brave step onto another world’s surface. I must have dozed off, but I can’t honestly remember how the next six hours went. But I was certainly awake for the building final moments as Neil Armstrong stepped down that ladder and laid his footstep into the grey soft Moon dust and uttered those immortal words: “That’s one small step for a Man, one giant leap for mankind.” It was 2:56:15 on the Monday morning – way past my bedtime.
It seems as if everyone on the planet we all share on its trips around the Sun suddenly was aware for those historic moments of how inconsequential we are in the vastness of space, the void of the universe, the vacuum of a time continuum in which we are here but for the blink of an eye. Maybe we should remember that more often.