Celebrating the first Apollo Moon Landing

In a matter of days it will be the 40th anniversay of Apollo 11 landing on the moon, a seminal moment for humanity, at least as far as I am concerned. Less than a hundred years since man figured out he could fly, three men travelled to another celestial body and came back to tell us about it.

It bugs me greatly that I cannot recall the first moon landing. I'm pretty sure I didn't watch it live (it was around 3am in England, not a good time for a youngster to be up) and my Dad was away (in the Navy) at the time. We had a tiny black & white TV, and I can remember watching non-specific moon landings, but not the first one. There's not much I can do about it now except grumble.

I am very familiar with the JFK "moon" speech, well at least I thought I was until I watched it recently on http://www.wechoosethemoon.org/ which features a longer version. I had no idea JFK included some reasonably funny lines in what I had always assumed was a very serious speech.

Last year, before I realized the anniversary was coming up, I tried to explain the moon landing to my kids (then 2 and 5). Hand waving wasn't much good, so I dug out "Apollo 13" on HD DVD and "From the Earth to the Moon" on DVD and played the best bits, which got their attention. I then bought the Space Voyagers "Ultimate Saturn V" at the Museum of Flight and was very impressed. Although not quite age appropriate, my 2yr old son took to it immediately and demanded I recreate the mission several times a day for about a month. The toy is a great size and pretty accurate, and kid-proof except for the lunar module adaptor which breaks very easily. The rocket also emits a good countdown sequence and vibrates when it "launches", all very fun for me and the kids. This proved to be a good introduction to the Solar System too, and by the time he was 3 my son could list all the planets, in order, and recognize their pictures.

In my twenties I got to visit Cape Canaveral and it was the highlight of that USA visit. Here in Seattle we have the Museum of Flight which has a reasonable Space section, but nothing beats standing next to an actual Saturn V rocket. Right before I moved from England it was the 25th anniversary of Apollo 11 and I bought some fabulous large-scale Revell plastic kits of the Saturn V and the Apollo hardware. Those kits now sit, mostly unbuilt, in the garage, awaiting a moment when I have the time to build them and the kids are old enough not to immediately trash them when I do. I also have re-purchased Airfix kits at a smaller scale, kits that I originally built when I was about ten years old and which I hope to build again one day.

I set my TiVo to record anything with Moon or Apollo in it, and have been very disappointed with the results. American TV doesn't seem to give much of a rip about this anniversary, which I think is a great opportunity missed. By the time the 50th anniversary comes around some of the participants might not be around any more, which would be a shame.

I have bought some kids' books on the moon landing and the NYT reviewed three more this weekend which I need to investigate. I've also read a couple of grown-up books on the technology behind Apollo, and its even more amazing they made it given how primitive the computers were that they relied on to get there and back. However for the bigger, non-electronic hardware Apollo remains the reference implementation in many areas. It is still the largest, most powerful rocket ever, and parts of it are being used to assist those working on current NASA projects in order to get to the Moon again (and further), even digging old Lunar Rover tires out of closets for closer inspection.

Will man ever do something as amazing with technology as the Apollo missions again? I'd like to think so, but its looking less and less likely, at least in my lifetime. Maybe my kids will get to see it, and hopefully they'll watch it live and remember it. It won't be in black & white, that's for sure.