Forty-two years ago, a spacecraft armed with less processing power than my iPhone touched down on the lunar surface. Seven years after Kennedy fired the starting pistol on the Space Race, eight years after Gargarin became the first human in space, the Eagle had landed.
On 8 July, the space shuttle Atlantis launched for the final time, tasked with taking supplies to the crew of the International Space Station. The mission was carried out with a reduced crew of four, due to there being no back-up shuttle to help them should anything go wrong.
Forty-two years ago, on July 21, two men took a small step onto the Moon, the first human footprints to appear anywhere other than Earth. Blurred and grainy monochrome footage crackled onto screens around the world; this was history and everyone knew it.
Earlier today, the crew of Atlantis received the final shuttle wake-up call, ‘God Bless America’ dedicated to them and all previous crews.in a couple of hours, they’ll be able to come home.
Forty-two years ago, a presidential speech was prepared in the event of Armstrong and Aldrin being stranded; fortunately it was never used, thanks to Buzz’s pen; the crew splashed down in the Pacific a couple of days later, national heroes and now figures in history.
Later today, July 21 again, Atlantis will touch down in Florida for the last time, becoming a museum piece at the Kennedy Space Centre. The curtain will fall on the shuttle programme and the adventure of manned space flight will largely pass into the hands of the private sector. The timing of this is fitting and ironic and frustrating and elegiac all at the same time, memories of the moon landing sitting uncomfortably next to the fading away of the shuttle.
The question “where next?” doesn’t seem to have a simple answer, and I can’t help but think my hppe of seeing men and women go to Mars someday is now futile, certainly not in my lifetime. That’s sadder than I thought it would be.
Safe landing, Atlantis. Come home safely.