If you remember watching live as Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon in 1969 you may not have realised it then – but you were among a global television audience of 600 million. Chances are you were woken in the middle of the night – it was just before 4 am in the UK when Armstrong stepped from the Eagle landing craft.
Across planet Earth we marvelled at an event the significance of which is hard to overestimate. The grainy black-and-white moonscape images gave an oddly “ordinary” quality to something that was literally out-of-this-world. Armstrong described the moon’s surface as like powdered charcoal. It looked as though the whole event was part of a low-budget sci-fi B-movie. Maybe that’s why the conspiracy theories suggesting it was all one big fake have been so enduring. But there was no denying the sense of awe and history as BBC broadcaster James Burke repeated Armstrong’s immortal words: “That’s one small step for man…one giant leap for mankind.”
For some reason (maybe pure self-preservation) I didn’t set my mind like so many other children on becoming an astronaut…but a tv journalist. The child that I was must have been gripped by the undeniable importance of the event not solely as a momentous pinnacle of space travel but also as a triumph for broadcasting. It heralded a media future that even back in the forward-looking 60s could not have been imagined.
Coverage of the event captured not just the current optimism of space exploration but (for me at least) the mind boggling possibilities for the future of the media industry.
Even when you’re too young to understand the true significance of a particular moment it can instinctively sow a seed of ambition. Thank you NASA. Thank you Messrs. Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins and all the other pioneers who ever flew toward the stars not knowing for sure that they would make it home. Thank you for igniting a spark in the mind of a boy who fifty years on still occasionally looks up to the night sky in wonder… and gratitude.