By Duncan Steel 18/07/2019

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There are lots of ways of remembering the Apollo project, which resulted in a dozen men walking on the lunar surface (and some of them even driving around in their lunar buggies). Here I show a few of them, dear to my heart. 

You may not have heard, but this weekend marks the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, when we humans first walked on the Moon. That happened on July 20th Universal or U.S. Time, though it was already July 21st over this side of the International Date Line.

Earlier today (Thursday 18th) I was delighted to go to the Nelson Provincial Museum to film a short clip for the forthcoming Kura Pounamu exhibition, which runs for two months from August 24th, and an associated My Taonga social media campaign. I was asked to show something special to me, and so I talked about the little piece of Mars rock that I described in an earlier post here.

That piece of Mars was my treasured taonga, but I could have chosen something else with a celestial association. In particular my Apollo 11 commemorative mug is important to me, though I would never drink coffee from it. In 1974 I was working for my father, buying and selling second-hand caravans, and this mug was left in a two-berth caravan I bought in Chepstow in South Wales. I’ve not had it from new, then, but I have owned it for a long time, 45 years in all, and it’s travelled around the world with me many, many times. And here it is:













The reverse of the mug shows the plaque left on the lunar surface by the Apollo 11 astronauts, and unfortunately carries the name of Richard Nixon on it; it should have been JFK. You know, I just googled “JFK Rice” and that was all that was needed to be taken to his speech of September 1962 in the Rice University football stadium in Houston. People often say that the Apollo project was remarkable because it was accomplished in less than a decade, but in fact there were fewer than seven complete years between that speech and the landing of Apollo 11.

In my opinion it would behove anyone wanting to achieve things in life, and contribute to the benefit of humankind, to read that speech well, and ponder the words Kennedy spoke (though largely from someone else’s pen). For example:

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, and the others, too.

People this past week or so have been asking me whether my life and career were affected by Apollo. You bet, in more ways than one.

The front of the mug? That, of course, is a sketch of the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM). Here is what the Apollo 11 LEM looked like on the surface of the Moon, photographed by Neil Armstrong:

To me, this remains a wonderful sight: Tranquility Base.

In my previous post I wrote about how the TV pictures showing Armstrong clambering down the LEM ladder and taking the first steps on the Moon were received via an antenna located at Honeysuckle Creek, maybe 30 km southwest of Canberra, and not at the Parkes radio telescope as so many people believe. Australia did well there, whilst here in New Zealand people needed to wait for film of the event to be flown over the Tasman Sea and shown on broadcast TV that evening.

Of course kiwis were more than passingly-interested in what was going on, far above their heads. The header to this post shows the front page of the Christchurch Star for Monday 21st July 1969. A subsequent special MOON SOUVENIR contained the half-page shown below, an amazing thing to look at now.

Just look at those headlines: a self-supporting colony on the Moon by 2020? Thing is, people had watched the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey (released in 1968) and been convinced that things would be that way thirty years hence. See the film again – I highly recommend it (and that has nothing to do with my association with Arthur C. Clarke) – and note the regalia on the spaceplane going up to the huge Earth-orbiting space station. Pan-Am? Pan American World Airways went bust in 1991, though not before they brought me to New Zealand for the first time in 1982, from San Francisco to Auckland via a week in Honolulu.

The Pan-Am Space Clipper: a still from the film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Those who read my posts will know that sometimes I tend to be a little irreverent. It’s important not to take everything in life seriously. Anyhow, a couple of times I have been involved in media events in which I’ve spoken to astronauts ‘up there’ in the space shuttle or station. Sometimes it’s been my job to relay questions from the public to the astronauts. There is no shadow of a doubt with regard to the question that people most want to ask: How do you go to the toilet in space?

A couple of weeks ago, looking over items up for auction here in Nelson (it’s amazing what junk people hoard… mea maxima culpa), I came across this space-themed beer tankard; and jolly splendid it is too. (No, I did not bid on it.) Anyhow, from this angle it looks like the space-suited astronaut on the tankard lid is giving an answer to that question.

0 Responses to “Remembering Apollo 11”

  • My answer to the question after my year in Antarctica more than half a century ago was “same as in NZ, but a hell of a lot faster”.