July 20th 1969. Where were you? Were you here at all? Today is 50 years since the first humans touched down on another world. And NASA has invited us to trawl through distant memories and share our Moon-day stories. Who can resist the gravity-pull of nostalgia?
My memories of that time are hazy, like pictures when the colour of emotion has been bleached out. I was seven, an immigrant child, still navigating craters of strangeness in a new country. Certainly the lunar landing left an imprint in the soft grained surface of my young mind. I know this because years later, my subconscious fashioned a recurring dream. Me, in space, utterly alone. Striving towards something undefined.
In my dream, there is no time, no countdown or Mission Control. Only the unfathomable reaches of space. I might be connected to a space-ship because I am pulling myself up a ladder. There must be something up there. But I’m ill-equipped, I have no spacesuit. How am I breathing? Impossibly, there’s an acute sense of upwards and downwards, of the abyss I’m suspended in. Sometimes the ladder is an invisible rope I cling to. I am just out there in a great darkness, the final wilderness of space. A lost cosmonaut, amongst the extinct stars, climbing the rungs of night.
But if I tug on that life-support umbilical cord, it hauls me back to a childhood memory, equally unreal. It is summer and I’m sat on the polished wooden floor of the school hall. The room is crammed with primary-school children, humming with rising curiosity. The hall doubles as a gym. There are ladders and ropes on the walls. The women are keeping us in check, though their own excitement is palpable. I am sure it is a woman, maybe two, who wheel in a cabinet like a small tank, with its dials and grey-green glass. My first television. The Media Age snaps into being with a satisfying clunk and a fizz of white light.
Then we’re watching a man on a ladder. In clumsy too-big boots, he climbs downwards, not up. Toiling carefully until he runs out of rungs and lands with a little jump. Moon dust scuffs up like grey flour. In our black-and-white scene, the helmeted man moves through an intermittent blizzard. And the faraway voices are alien messages in slurred machine-speak, crackling with static. I don’t know if the seven-year old me really grasps their meaning. That will come later. But I am a witness.
Like a Hasselblad photo, the moment freezes. A negative waiting for the alchemy of the dark-room to pick out its elements. The white machine in a grey world; a helmeted man with women at the periphery; his rickety ladder matching those on the school walls. A crowd of overheated children peering at history through a cosmic periscope. That boot-print in the dust.
You can read personal accounts of that day from around the world on NASA’s website here: