Thursday, 23 July 2009

Did they 'lie me to the moon' all those years ago?

What is your earliest childhood memory?

Some people can answer this question instantly and often seem to recall in great detail staring up out of a pram or, in one case that I read, being in their mother’s womb.

I call these people fantasists.

For me, sadly, my earliest memories are only around the age of 5 or 6.

The first was being chosen to be one of the three kings at my school’s Nativity and wondering, in my own infantile way, why the baby Jesus wanted this thing I gave him called ‘Frankincense’ (pictured here) when I was sure he would have preferred toys.

I can also recall saying to my fellow two kings (Nigel Postings and Lawrence Green) that we would one day live in a house together – as you do at that age. I barely ever spoke to ‘King One’ Lawrence again but Nigel went on to be best man at my wedding, so our early Royal connections clearly worked.

Anyway . . . my second earliest memory is being got up out of bed by my parents to watch the first moon landing – the 40th anniversary of which we are celebrating this week.

For somebody with a vivid imagination, this was a source of great wonderment to me. I remember for years afterwards thinking how on earth could a man walk on that little ball in the sky when to me a trip into town on the bus was an epic journey.

Of course, as childhood wide-eyed innocence gives way to latter-day cynicism, I then went through my “it was all a giant hoax phase”. Now I’m not a great believer in conspiracy theories, be they about Princess Diana, JFK or even Michael Jackson (although I did say even at the time that it wasn’t MJ at that O2 press conference pictured left) but the more I tentatively investigated the moon landings the more I started to have my doubts.

Fuelled no doubt by that highly watchable 1978 movie Capricorn One about a faked trip to Mars, I started to wonder whether the whole thing was just a political stunt to get one over on the Russians during the height of the Cold War.

I quoted the evidence about the flag not moving, the mystery of the shadows and the fact that the ‘moon rock’ was apparently identical to material found in Antarctica, to query the whole mission. And it seems I’m not alone – this is a ‘biggie’ in the hoax/conspiracy movement.

Well, I’m pleased to say, that my doubting Thomas phase is now over. Although science and scientific discovery is not usually high on my agenda of interest, I’ve watched a number of TV programmes about the moon landings of late and experienced much of the wide-eyed naivety I felt as that five year old.

Yes, I could still argue with some conviction that $30 billion would have been far, far better spent on ending world poverty but the truth is, I think we as a planet should have oodles of pride in this amazing achievement. Will it ever be repeated? Will man ever walk again on the surface of the moon? Maybe not – but at least we can say “been there, done that” about it.

One final point about the whole expedition was raised by the splendid Nicky Campbell who I wake up to every morning on my beloved Radio Five Live. He said he remembered as a child watching the moon landing pictures and being disappointed by the ‘photo quality’. He thought Star Trek did interplanetary exploration films much better than the real thing!

This actually got me thinking the opposite. After I’d heard him talk I pondered on just how incredible it is that we managed to get pictures from the moon at all. After all shouldn’t we impressed (or depressed?) that we managed to get live moon pics and yet half of Bath can’t even pick up Channel Five or Freeview?

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