Sunday, 26 August 2012
R.I.P. Neil Armstrong, The Man Who Made One Giant Leap for Mankind.
I watched live, as the lunar module, piloted by Armstrong, descended toward the surface of the moon.
It was July 1969, I was a teenager, and a science-fiction aficionado, and I was in hospital. I'd spent six weeks desperately ill, with a severe bout of asthma, I'd lost weight, unable to eat, but by July 21st, I was up and about in the hospital, and there was no way I'd be sleeping through this.
Back then, televisions were not common issue in hospitals, but there was one in a smaller room at the end of the ward, and a determined group of patients and nurses were there, at almost four in the morning, watching the blurry images, hearing the beeps and crackles of static, and rapt as we watched him descend the ladder.
One man, in with lung cancer said "That's it. That's what I stayed to see."
And, some three hours later, he was wheeled, covered in a sheet, past my bed, to the mortuary.
I remember that summer, the intensity of it. I remember the sounds from outside, I remember a lot of pain and living right on the edge of life, and wishing it would end, one way or another. Being carried out of the house, and into an ambulance, with the neighbour's kids staring. I remember the ambulance driver braking hard to avoid a small child who darted across his path, and the paramedic who was holding an oxygen mask to my face, joking with my distraught mother, who was crushing all the bones in my right hand with her grip, "It's alright Missus, if we knocks them down, we picks them up!"
Armstrong, and Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins, they were my heroes at the time, they were the ones who were going to the edge of man's frontiers, and I was gasping for breath, and wondering if we'd all die at the same time. Because it was the unknown. All these years later, when we're watching the latest probe exploring Mars, it's easy to forget how fragile and tenuous the whole mission was, how few seconds of fuel were left, how nobody knew if the L.E.M. would land safe and stable, crash, or topple and sink. Would they ever lift off again? could they rejoin the command module?
They did, and the man who piloted that module, and first human to set foot on another world, died today.