"Earth’s distant orb appeared the smallest light that twinkles in the heaven; whilst round the chariot’s way innumerable systems rolled and countless spheres diffused an ever-varying glory. It was a sight of wonder: some were hornèd like the crescent moon; some shed a mild and silver beam like Hesperus o'er the western sea; some dashed athwart with trains of flame, like worlds to death and ruin driven; some shone like suns, and as the chariot passed, eclipsed all other light." From "Queen Mab" by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1813)

Monday, 22 February 2010

Charlie Brown

So with the Constellation programme gone for a Burton, I’m taking my consolation in the enduring appeal of Apollo and its predecessors Mercury and Gemini. My childhood fascination with all things space never left me but it is only in the last couple of years that I’ve taken a fresh look at it and started doing the research to find out as much as I can. So far so good, I’ve read a number of astronaut biographies and autobiographies, plus a few other books around and about the subject of Apollo; watched countless programmes about it all on TV (and then bought the DVDs); celebrated what I called “Moon Day” last year on the anniversary of Apollo 11’s landing on the moon by eating an astronauts breakfast (steak and eggs) and watching more moon related TV programmes, all day (it was brilliant, I’m making this an annual event); and filled scrapbooks and note books with much spaceyness. I also plan to make a few space related pieces of art, the first of which is now in the early design stage.

Obviously I would love to visit the Kennedy Space Centre someday but till then we have a real piece of space history in the form of Apollo hardware right here in the UK. The Command Module, named Charlie Brown, from Apollo 10’s mission to the moon is on display at the Science Museum in London. I haven’t been to see it yet, I’m hoping to go later this year. I’m reading Gene Cernan’s autobiography at the moment, he was the Lunar Module Pilot on Apollo 10 and later the Commander on Apollo 17, the last of the Apollo moon missions. Cernan was the last person to walk on the moon. At this rate he’ll remain so for some time to come, and it maybe that the Chinese will be the next people to set foot there, so he’ll be the last American on the moon. Time will tell how that pans out.

While Cernan’s Apollo 17 trip saw him spend 3 days living and working on the moon with fellow astronaut Harrison Schmitt, his Apollo 10 mission was the final test mission before the actual landing of Apollo 11 a couple of months later. With Commander Thomas Stafford, he took the Lunar Module, named Snoopy, to just under 10 miles from the lunar surface in a dry run of the Apollo 11 flight. So near and yet so far.

I can’t get enough of all this. You’d think that reading similar astronaut stories would get all a bit samey, but each book, each man’s story, reveals more about the times, their lives, and what it was like to make those desperately dangerous, first steps. And each time I’m reminded of an optimistic child of Apollo who saw the moon and space as his due destination, a legacy from those men who took those pioneering journeys from the earth to the moon, and back. Although ultimately this was a dream unfulfilled, it was a nice dream and one that still excites, inspires and brings wonder to that child now grown.

Suggested reading: “The Last Man On The Moon” by Gene Cernan and Don Davis

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