Last night I celebrated the 40th anniversary of the first Moon walk by going to the Science Museum to see a live performance of Brian Eno’s Apollo. The music was played by Icebreaker who were largely out of sight below the screen while extracts from For All Mankind were broadcast on the IMAX screen. It seems I chose the wrong night to go as Eno himself introduced the performance on Monday night (the 40th anniversary of the first Moon landing), but that doesn’t really matter – the show was still great. I’d recommend you see it, but that was the final performance.
I’m old enough that I remember the original events. My parents dragged me out of bed early in the morning of July 21st 1969 to watch Neil Armstrong leave the Eagle and become the first man to walk on the Moon. My memory is hazy and no doubt clouded by the innumerable times that I’ve seen the footage since, but I definitely remember being obsessed by all things Apollo at the time.
Mine was the first generation to whom spaceflight was a reality. I was born five years after Sputnik 1 and about eighteen months after Yuri Gagarin’s spaceflight. People of my age were the first people to grow up in a world where it seemed that the space travel of science fiction might not remain fiction for much longer. By the time of Apollo 11 we were sure that we were going to be the first generation to take our holidays on the Moon. If you had told that six-year-old boy that the chances of him ever visiting the Moon were as slim as they now seem, he would have laughed at you.
I’m not usually prone to introspection, but this anniversary has effected me in a strange way. I suppose I’ve known it for years, but I’ve finally had to face the fact that I won’t be travelling to the Moon. There’s an outside chance that I might get rich enough or prices might fall enough that I’ll one day take a “space tourist” flight to Earth orbit. But that’s likely to be about as far as I’ll get. And that makes me sad.
I know, of course, all of the reasons why the Apollo project was cancelled. And why no-one has gone further than the International Space Station in the last thirty-five years. But understanding the rationale doesn’t stop it from being a huge disappointment to me. I’m glad to hear people starting to talk about going back to the Moon and the Apollo 11 astronauts encouraging NASA to consider missions to Mars, but I’m just going to have to accept that there is no chance that I’ll be involved in any of those projects.
Astronauts are largely younger than me these days. I sailed past both my thirtieth and fortieth birthdays without experiencing the morose introspection that those birthdays traditionally trigger. But I think that what I’ve been feeling over the last few days is a very similar effect.