Man on the Moon
It is hard now to convey the all-encompassing excitement surrounding the Apollo 11 mission in July 1969. We had been given plenty of warning of course, President Kennedy vowing at the start of the decade that America would land a man on the moon before the end of the 1960s, reacting to Soviet triumphs in the space race like Gagarin’s flight and before that putting Sputnik into orbit. But landing on the moon was somehow more understandable and greater as an achievement. It was travel not reconnaissance.
In Britain the ITN and the BBC battled over the TV coverage, David Froston the great night hosting a rather light-hearted programme, whereas the BBC went serious with Patrick Moore , James Burke, and Cliff Michelmore. The inevitable long gaps and silences from the mission were filled by readings, sketches, and music: Judi Dench played a part in that, so did Pink Floyd, Dudley Moore , Ian McKellen and Lulu among a host of others.
At 3.56 am British time Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon’s surface. Kids around the country were roused from sleep by parents who had waited by the TV for hours. We saw that Man was walking on another celestial body, a defining moment for a generation, and one it is still moving to consider more than 40 years later.