As We Set Sail

The NBC news tweet alerted the world to the death of an historic icon. “Astronaut Neil Young, the first man to walk on the moon has died”.     The gaff was re-tweeted around the world at the speed of light.    Within minutes an embarrassed NBC news editor changed the headline to “Astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon ,has died”.

Over millions of years the moon pulled and pushed the tides of the oceans from which, eventually, life forms climbed ashore and in a cosmic heart beat, stood up and achieved consciousness.     In the blink of an eye, a human flew up to the Moon and trod its virgin dust.

The early years of the 1960s were over shadowed by the ubiquitous threat of nuclear annihilation. We sat through those days of the Cuban missile crisis quaking in our boots.   After the insanity of WW2 we so swiftly brought ourselves back to the brink. The crisis came and went.       Phew!

JFK announces to the world “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”       This was more like it!

At the time that Kennedy made this speech, Man had spent only 120 minutes in space; first the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin and then American astronuat Alan Sheppard, but the space race was on.      Kennedy committed the country to the most expensive project in the history of the world.      He promised that it would lead to huge advances in materials, computing, avionics, telecommunications and other technologies.   He certainly made good on that promise.  Kennedy concluded his great speech:  “Therefore as we set sail, we ask God’s blessing, on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked

Then they assassinated him.

As a teenager I watched the first Moon landing. It was a moment of such positive potential – a time when the new generation was full of hope and energy.   Everyone knows where they were at that moment.     We were all there with him as Armstrong took that one small step; this was where we were going.     This was where our future was, out there – amongst the stars, with the cosmic wind blowing on our cheeks; all my comics told me so.

Buzz Aldrin, 2nd man on the Moon, gets his picture taken by Armstrong

A dozen men would walk on the moon before the Apollo programme came to an end. Neil Armstrong left behind on the Moon an American flag and a plaque with the inscription “We came in Peace for All Mankind

Eventually the moment faded away into History.   With that fading and cut backs in NASA’s budget there  was a decline in American Space superiority. But others will follow in his footsteps.

And what of the man?

When Armstrong returned to Earth he was the most famous person in History.     He could have cashed in; he could have named his price, but he didn’t.    Early on he was warned by Charles Limburg – who only thirty years previously had been the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean – of the dangerous storm of public and commercial interest that was blowing his way.   In Lindbergh’s case it had resulted in the kidnapping and murder of his child son. Armstrong heeded the warning.

After leaving NASA, Neil Armstrong became a teacher at Cincinnati University and kept out of the limelight for the rest of his life. Whenever he found himself in the public eye he deflected all adoration; always reminding people that he was part of a much larger team; he just happened to be the one who “flew the bird

Neil Armstrong

On his death we were able to pause a moment to remember this humble man and the massive thing he did. Long after our civilisation has crumbled; his first footprints will remain on the Sea of Tranquillity, undisturbed in the lunar dust, until the end of the Solar System.

In its sixty year history NASA has launched men into orbit (Mercury and Gemini), gone to the Moon – Apollo, created the Space Shuttle programme, helped build and supply the Space Station, launched the Hubble Telescope; that incredible sharp eye on the Universe, placed hundreds of satellites into orbit and launched many interplanetary probes, like “Curiosity” the current Mars Lander mission. One of those programmes was pair of probes called Voyager 1&2.

Launched in 1977, these machines were sent out on a Grand Tour of the great Gas Giants of the Solar System. There was a rare favourable planetary alignment that allowed Voyager to fly out past Jupiter, Saturn and Uranus, sending back an invaluable amount of data and some magnificent images of the planets and their moons. Using each of the Planet’s gravitational pull Voyager was propelled towards and then past each solar body onto the next, until passing close to Neptune the mission was to be flung onwards out of the Solar system and into deep space.

This week Voyager 1 has broken through the outer edge of Heliosphere – the bubble of charged particles created by the solar wind that denotes the edge of the Solar system and interstellar space.  We know that Voyager is now leaving our solar system because of the change in the signals being sent back from the craft.  The radio signature of cosmic rays of deep space is now greater than that of the Solar wind.  The radio, which has a signal similar in power as a cell phone, will broadcast back home until about 2025 when the plutonium power unit emits its last particle.

A fabulous view of the moon Io as it passes across the Planet Jupiter

Apart from the small nuclear reactor, the science packages and the radio equipment Voyager1&2 carries a Gold-plated audio-visual disc which is a kind of calling card should any extraterrestrial life forms encounter the craft at some point in the far distant future.

The Gold-plated audio Visual disc

Etched on the surface of the disc is a diagram explaining how to retrieve the recording. There is even a stylus and an electrical pickup on board with which to play the record. The disc contains images of life on Earth, it’s place in the solar system and audio recordings of greetings in 50 languages, the sounds made by surf, wind, thunder and animals, bird and whale song and a selection of music; including Mozart, Beethoven, Guan Pinghu, Stravinsky, Chuck Berry and some blues music.

In 1945 when the world was emerging from WW2 and entering the Atomic age; an Ohio rookie flyer, 15 year old Neil Armstrong – was awarded his pilots’ license – a year before he was allowed to drive. Rock legend Neil Young was born and a little known blues singer, Blind Willie Johnson was found dead in the burnt out ruins of his Huston house, which he couldn’t afford to rebuild, covered in wet newspapers.

Blind Willie Johnson:
“Dark was the night, cold was the day”

Born in 1897 in Texas, Willie Johnson told his father when he was five years old that he wanted to be a preacher.   This was the year Charles Lindbergh was born.   He made a guitar from a cigar box and began his musical journey.   Willie’s mother had died when he was a baby and eventually his father re-married.     One day he witnessed a ferocious argument between his Step- Mother and Father which resulted in boiling water being thrown into his face.     He lost his sight for ever.       He spent his time preaching the Gospel and singing the Blues in towns across the Southern states.

The blues music included on Voyager’s Golden disc is a track by Blind Willie Johnson called “Dark was the night, cold was the day”      Blind, alone and penniless when he died; this man’s music has just left the solar system entering interstellar space, and at the time of writing, is 10 billion kilometres out and counting.

Along with Beethoven and Mozart , Blind Willie’s song is 35 years into an infinite journey to the stars.

About Bill Hayes

I have a very large sea shell collection; it's too big to keep at home, so I have left the collection scattered on various beaches around the world. Perhaps you've seen some it.
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28 Responses to As We Set Sail

  1. What a fabulous account of our space journey, what a sad account of our failure to launch. I didn’t know they included Blind Willie in the musical selection, what a great choice.

    We are a pitiful group, humankind that is. Fabulous and inventive but failures. We would rather make weapons and war.

    • Bill Hayes says:

      True, man would rather make war, but he also would rather make things. So often in War great strides were made for times of peace. It is argued that the two great advances in surgical medicine were Barbed wire and the Machine Gun.

      Indeed, the team that designed and built the German V2 rockets (the first proper missile) that rained down on London, was lifted wholesale by the Americans and taken to the States where they set to work on Rocketry with massive budgets. This was Werner Von Braun and his team who became the backbone of NASA and the Apollo Programme.

      So with anomolies like that; what do you tell the kids?

      As Tom Lehre said in his song about the man “Vance ze rockets go up, who cares vere zay come down, zat’s not my dept said Werner Van Baun.

  2. The Barista says:

    as hard as this all was to read it connected in my brain more then i can explain or write about right now. Which is funny because to you these connections are seen better after writing them out. Again leading to an interesting dynamic in this circle of connectedness. You think it but can see it better after writing. I read it and can see it in my thoughts but can’t write exactly what I just understood (something that makes blogging for me difficult). But that was a great post and I appreciate how it went full circle in SO many different ways. You have a great talent to have been able to articulate that so well and interestingly. 🙂

    • Bill Hayes says:

      That you for your kind words. It can be difficult trying to express an idea and connect all the facts and characters. This is the way I see the world and so it flows relatively easy for me; Fiction, no matter how I try just won’t come out right.

      Best to just express in one’s own way I suppose. 🙂

  3. Interesting read, i am an admirer of the late legend as well… He had visited my once-country long time ago, soon after his historical return to Earth – here you can see him with our once leader, Tito (1969)–a-onda-se-s-njim-provozao-centrom-grada/1050139/

    P.S. i learned of your blog at Truth and Cake 🙂

  4. Pingback: The Pressables | Truth and Cake

  5. Alex Autin says:

    What an awe-inspiring post, and brilliantly written. I found absolutely nothing sad about it. Of course this is coming from a woman who can spend hours in geek-nirvana reading about the V-2 rocket, the Saturn V, or Space X’s Falcon 9. This is a very well written journey through humanity’s experience in space thus far.

    And speaking of Neils, I’m wondering if you’ve read Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Space Chronicles.

  6. poet365 says:

    This is a very interesting posting,
    and one that I thought would have
    carried more comments. I remember
    watching these as a child and was
    totally blown away by it all, though
    nowadays nobody seems interested
    in the Space age, which is a shame
    I think 😦 Have a good evening Bill

  7. john zande says:

    Very, very nice! You have the eye. I’m going to enjoy trolling your blog (in the nicest possible way, of course) 🙂

  8. R. Ban says:

    How beautiful! Mr. Armstrong has always been one of my role models. Named my son after him!
    It’s all so fascinating…we may never know if and who will eventually come across this disc…reminds me of The Contact. -“If it’s just us…it seems like an awful waste of space.”

  9. ShimonZ says:

    I really enjoyed this post, Bill. And liked the way your braided the interconnected stories. Since you started out with a little grammar mistake on the part of NBC news, I’ll consider myself free to point out that you spelled the name of Charles Lindbergh incorrectly. How well I remember that day, when Armstrong took his first step on the moon. And when we think of all the discoveries and inventions that came to us as side effects of that great exploration of space, the investment seems well worth it. Thank you very much for your telling of the story. Lets hope that mankind will continue to seek out such challenges which will enrich all of us, and our future as well.

    • Bill Hayes says:

      Thanks you for your comment Shimon. Lindbergh’s name now corrected.

      It is estimated that for every dollar spent on the Moon missions, the USA got a return of 17 dollars! Not bad eh?

  10. I love how you unearth (pun intended) all these details…

    I saw the moon landing from a tiny stone cottage in Monzievaird, near Crieff, the summer I was 12. What a place to watch history being made. Have you seen “Gravity”, the new film? I hope to catch it this week.

  11. Delightful essay that. Thank you!

  12. Carl Milner says:

    Great piece Bill, my favourite memory of Voyager 1 is the Pale Blue Dot photograph it took at Carl Sagan’s suggestion on February 14, 1990 as it left the fringes of the solar system and turned around for one last look of our home planet.

    Thanks for your comment on MilnersBlog, I tried to reply on the iPad, but inadvertently unapproved your comment and cant get it to appear again…shows how much I haven’t been ussing WordPress in the last 3 Months.

    Cheers Carl

  13. Glorialana says:

    Thank you! I really like it.

  14. Dear Bill,

    First off a good article and well written. The question of was it the ultimate conspipracy to get to the moon in order to beat the Russians is an interesting one. I like you watched very second of every bit of footage. I wrote to MASA on every launch and have an official NASA badge to prove it.

    But there are some interesting anomalies from footage to picture to time development. But then you look at 400,000 people being involved in the programme and say… Can you buy them all until their deaths. I for one am unsure. The lies, lies and more damn lies that governments tell about everything, has to make you wonder. If you don’t, then lie down and wait to be eaten.

    • Bill Hayes says:

      Yes Governments lie, a lot of the time, but they can’t lie about everything. There’s no way they could hvae faked the moon landings. A small strip of sticky tape, pulled across a lock on a door at the Watergate Hotel by the burgalers led to the down fall of Nixon. There were about 40 people involved in that conspiracy. There were, as you say, 400,000 people involved in the moon landings. It would have come out by now.

  15. Steph Gaunt says:

    Very interesting. Have you found a FB group called ‘Blogging for Blogging’s sake’ ? I recommend it. It is quite small, mostly more mature more ‘literary’ bloggers.

  16. Hi Bill! What a cool story about Blind Willie. Not his tragic personal history, but that his music is out there with Beethoven and Mozart. One of your readers posted a music youtube of “Dark Was the Night”. Excellent! And so fitting that it’s out in the darkest of nights. Nice post.

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