40 years ago they were asleep.

Written by

Andrew Millar


July 17, 2009

A little while ago someone asked me who my childhood hero was… and I couldn’t remember.

Maybe it was because my childhood was so long ago. But I did recall that it was not a footballer, a racing car driver or a mountain climber… it certainly wasn’t the British Pot Black Champion.

And then at 11 o’clock last night I was reminded of the fact that I was a child of the Cosmic Age. I don’t feel much like a Baby Boomer, more of a Space Racer.

I was 5 when I heard the speech by John F Kennedy when he announced that within the decade America would send a man to the surface of the moon and return him safely to the earth.

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.” (Ted Sorensen was a good writer… very good.)

At 11 o’clock last night, the 40 year anniversary, 3 of my heros unbolted themselves from the earth and hurtled headlong into the greatest journey of discovery of the 20th century. Mission Commander Neil Armstrong, the one no-one can remember, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins, and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin, Jr accelerated into history.

To commemorate their feat the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum has mounted a website that retraces their steps in ‘real time’. celebrates their bravery and dumb luck.

The computer has been on all day in the kitchen and I’ve heard their mundane conversations. They talked about their lunch, they checked their course by the stars, they took care of routine matters and 24 hours into their mission, they are now allowed to asleep as they travel across the void at 6114 feet per second in a space craft the size of two phone boxes.

My heros were the astronauts of my early years:
The ‘Mercury Seven’;

Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Walter Schirra, Alan Shepard, and Deke Slayton.

… The Gemini Astronauts;

John Young, Jim McDivitt, Ed White, Pete Conrad, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, Wally Schirra, Tom Stafford, Dave Scott, Eugene Cernan, Michael Collins, Richard Gordon.

… and those who joined the Apollo program:

Neil Armstrong, Frank Borman, Pete Conrad,, James Lovell, James McDivitt, Thomas Stafford, John Young, Buzz Aldrin, William Anders, Alan Bean, Eugene Cernan, Michael Collins, Walter Cunningham, Donn Eisele, Richard Gordon, Rusty Schweickart, David Scott, Jack Schmitt, Charles Duke, Ronald Evans, Fred Haise, James Irwin, Thomas Mattingly, Edgar Mitchell, Stuart Roosa, Jack Swigert and Alfred Worden.

(CAPCOM just woke the sleeping astronauts. We’re into checks and rechecks of systems…)

A few years ago I stepped into the fairy tale and got the chance to wander the spotless corridors of Kennedy Space Centre. I saw the missiles these guys rode. And I got to do… in a minor way… what these people all risked their lives to achieve… I got to touch, albeit a tiny bit… I got to touch the moon. Only 12 people left their foot prints on that barren rock for real but each one of that dozen did so by standing on the shoulders of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo men…. my heros.