Buzz Aldrin next to "Eagle", the Apollo 11 Lunar Module

Today we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the first landing on the moon. Contrary to what they’ve been saying on the news, the anniversary of the first moonwalk doesn’t actually come till tomorrow, as for Britain it was in the early hours of the 21st July that Neil Armstrong made that “one small step for man”. I remember watching the grainy images on TV and I remember being utterly captivated by it.

As a teenager I’d followed all the Apollo missions, both those leading up to Apollo 11, and the ones that came after. I was so in awe of it that the first thing I did upon leaving school and getting a job was to borrow a large wodge of cash in order to fly to the USA to watch the launch of Apollo 17 from the Kennedy Space Center in December 1972. Seeing (and feeling) an Apollo Saturn 5 take to the skies at night remains one of the highlights of my life.

Of course there are some that think it was all a con, although I suspect that even now they will be coming up with feeble excuses upon seeing the first images of the Apollo landing sites which have just been sent back by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), sent to the moon to map the surface in high resolution and help choose future landing sites. They show the descent stages of the Apollo Lunar Modules, scientific instruments, and in one case, even picks out a line of footprints. Further images at much higher resolutions will show even greater detail.

There are plenty who wonder at the cost of going to the moon, although even in terms of spin-off developments, the benefits have been massive. But ultimately, whether on this planet or beyond, man was born to explore, and that’s something that cannot, and should not, be denied.

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