Man Walks On The Moon (20 July 1969)
For those of us who witnessed it, all 500 million of us, we each have our own sweet memory of the day Neil Armstrong stepped foot on the moon.
I was a schoolkid, home sick for the day. Earlier that year I’d been on a school trip to Papua New Guinea from which I’d returned with three wooden masks, two bamboo arrows and a severe bout of malaria, diagnosed only the week before.
I seem to recall it was around lunchtime, an overcast, windy, nothing of a winters day, and Mum had brought me a small lunch, her trademark Vegemite Roll especially reserved for sick kids, a slice of white Tip Top bread smeared in Western Star butter and Vegemite, with a glass of chocolate Quik with which to wash it down.
The Eagle might well have landed but we were staring at a turkey.
Propped up by pillows in my parent’s bedroom, feeling crook but special, eyes glued to their tiny portable TV with the silver rabbit ear antenna at full extension, I watched, mesmerised by the relentless anticipatory drone of the Channel 9 host broadcast team during that three and a half day journey to the Moon, as they stalled and filibustered for hour upon interminable hour awaiting that memorable first step.
I seem to recall studio commentators meaningfully assembling and disassembling miniature toy space mock lunar landing vehicles which looked suspiciously like Thunderbirds 1 and 2. I recall them endlessly scrawling diagrams on blackboards; sketchy chalk drawings of the earth and the moon, supported by basketball and golf ball props, and a series of hand drawn ellipses approximating the flight path of Apollo 11, otherwise known as ‘The Eagle’.
The Eagle might well have landed but we were staring at a turkey. Nothing happened as the astronauts within the tiny vehicle on that bleak foreign surface readied themselves behind closed doors, like teenage girls dressing for a formal.
And while they prepared, Channel 9’s record breaking live coverage droned on and on and on.
The commentators were desperate. They talked space suits and oxygen, they talked moon rocks and the speed of sound, they talked toilet arrangements and gravity, Galileo and the Sea of Tranquility, they talked and they talked so that in my minds eye it is now impossible to tell where the static grainy monotony of the moon coverage ended and the static grainy monotony of my malarial dreams began.
Finally we see the pictures from the moon. What is that?
This is the ladder, we are told, down which Neil Armstrong will descend.
Really? Is that a ladder? Its difficult to tell what it is. The transmission has all the hallmarks of a flickering cathode Rorschach Test. It’s a ladder on the side of a lunar vehicle . No it’s a dog driving a Fiat. Or is it a dog in a spacesuit attached to a lunar vehicle?
And still we wait. And we wait. Never have so many waited so long looking at so little. And that includes the telecast of the Brownlow Medal.
And then finally, a foot?
Is that a foot? And then a man. Are you sure?
The soundtrack leaves no room for uncertainty.
“Ok Houston I’m coming down the ladder now” says the figure in the white helmet. Then finally, memorably, he floats to the empty surface, where contrary to three hours of prior speculation, he is not engulfed by moon dust.
“OK. That’s one small step for man. One giant leap for mankind”
After three and a half days, 4.5 billion years plus three and a half days, man has ventured from his green and blue haven and for one tiny moment all 600 billion of us are bound together in awe. Not so much at what we have achieved on some tiny airless lifeless place, but at this resounding demonstration of how we might dream and of the leaps we might yet make.
Outside the bedroom window the bleak winter wind rustled tired leaves, the Vegemite smeared my cheek and Mum and Dad’s pillow, and far beyond the pointing fingers of the old eucalyptus , even as I sipped my chocolate Quik, a man was walking on the moon and everything was possible.