Sunday, 26 August 2012

I have woken to the news that

Neil Armstrong has died. He was not particularly old - 82 is not a really great age anymore. The Senior Cat will, all being well, have a 90th birthday next February. I know people who are over 100 years old.
It makes me wonder about the toll of space travel on the human body. It must be very great. Astronauts apparently have to be incredibly fit. The Australian state I live in has a homegrown astronaut. He went to the same school as my nephews and they have, briefly, met him. They were rather young then and rather overwhelmed and had little to say about the experience. One of the nephews did mention the fitness issue. There were small boys getting "astronaut fit" all over the playground after the visit.
I can remember trying to explain to my nephews how I was at teacher training college when that moonwalk occurred. College stopped. Staff and students gathered around television sets brought in for the occasion. It was all in grainy black and white of course. The reception, coming in via a series of relay stations, was very poor. It all seemed more than a little unreal.
Our homegrown astronaut was probably watching the same pictures at school. I doubt very much work was being done anywhere that day. I know friends in other parts of the world were sitting up and watching when they would normally have been sleeping.
My nephews found all of this rather extraordinary. They have grown up in the age of regular NASA and Russian flights. A launch is nothing remarkable in their book.
Space flights no longer cause the same intense interest unless something goes tragically wrong. Most of us know very little about the international space station. We have even less idea how any of it works. The extraordinary Mars landing was barely reported here. I find that sad.
I wonder what Neil Armstrong thought when, on his return to earth, he could stand outside at night and stare up at the moon. "I've been there and I walked on that" would hardly begin to describe the journey.  Did the memory stay sharp in his mind or did it fade? Had the moon lost its mystery for him - or had it become a greater mystery than before? I hope it was a greater mystery.

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