This month.....

Where were you?

Where were you on ??? There are certain dates that are so memorable that we can all bring to mind where we were and what we were doing on that date. Of course, we all have personal dates that we remember and mark, if not annually then at special times; 25th wedding anniversaries, 18th birthdays etc. But there are some dates that a wider group of people remember. How about 6th February 1952? Now that might be a difficult one but it’s related to 2nd June 1953. Other dates are remembered throughout the world, 11th November 1918, 13th July 1985 or 27th July 2012 for example.

I know that less than half of our readers will have been about (and much less than ¼ of humans presently on the planet will have been alive then), but those of us who were will know where we were on 21st July 1969 at 3:56:15 British Summer Time. I was 7 at the time, though I probably claimed to be 7 2/3. My father had got me out of bed and we watched the family 14” black and white television. We were fortunate to have such a large Television; my uncle and aunt who had a television before my family had a 4” black and white model! My father and I were joined by an estimated 600 million people, about 20% of the world population at the time (there are more than twice as many of us on the planet now).

We watched a television picture that was being broadcast on a 405 lines VHF transmission (no high tech 625 lines UHF transmission for us in those days!). But the picture we were watching had been captured by a television camera from a NTSC television (525 lines) in the USA which itself had been captured from a SSTV (Slow Scan Television about 240 lines) signal from the moon. I only mention this because the original picture was of low quality and then it was copied twice and bounced around the world via satellites.

So as my father and I watched the live broadcast of Neil Armstrong stepping onto the moon we could hardly work out what was going on because it looked like we were watching through a snowstorm. If it hadn’t been for James Burke’s commentary I wonder if we would have had much idea of what was going on. If you watch archive video from the moon now you watch a more direct version of the video feed not the one we watched live after having been converted through a number of TV formats; so you don’t get the snow storm! That’s a bit of a pity really as that version would take me right back to that early morning 50 years ago.

What I hadn’t realised was what had happened privately just after the lunar landing nearly 7 hours previously. We are now back on the 20th July 1969 and it was a Sunday. As a good Presbyterian Buzz Aldrin had taken with him a communion kit prepared by the pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Webster that Buzz Aldrin attended. So after making a safe landing the first thing that Buzz Aldrin did was take communion. His church uses the chalice that he brought back from the moon every year on the nearest Sunday to the 20th July to commemorate the first communion on the moon! Thanks Wikipedia for that insight! NASA didn’t publicise that first communion on the moon because there had been complaints when the crew of Apollo 8 had read from the book of Genesis on Christmas eve the previous year as they orbited the moon.

For those of us who have lived through the last 50 years we look back and wonder if it really could be so long ago. It’s perhaps only when we reflect over this period of time that we get a sense of how things have changed. I reflected at my grandfather’s funeral on the fact that he had been born 48 days before the Wright brothers first powered flight at Kitty Hawk, he retired after Neil Armstrong had stepped onto the moon (that reflection was the bit of my sermon that everyone commented on later!). I’ve got a number of Raspberry Pi computers around the house (a small low power computer on a board the size of a credit card) which cost under £30 each and each one has computing power that would have cost over 200 times the gross national product of the world when I was born!

Over the Easter season in church we have been hearing the account of the early Church in The Acts of the Apostles and we have been seeing how the Church in the first decades after the events of that first Easter transformed and changed rapidly in the light of the resurrection and with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. That was also a period of great change and I expect in the 80’s (the 0080’s) those first followers of Jesus would also have looked back and been amazed at the changes that they had lived through.

In writing this month’s letter I’ve been playing about with dates and realise that some momentous dates are coming up!

30th March 2020 at 9:05:45 BST we will be exactly the same number of days, minutes and seconds past Neil Armstrong stepping onto the moon as that event was past the end of the First World War!

7th September 2019 is a personal one. I will have lived (hopefully) the same number of days as the number of days from the Wright brothers first flight to my birth (which was also the date of the first test flight of the Saturn 1 the first precursor to the Saturn 5 which went to the moon).

I suppose I should finish with an apology to all those of my generation reading this as if I haven’t made you feel old I certainly have made myself feel old but also I hope we can all look back and see how many amazing events we have seen in our lives whether we are 7 or 107.

Hoping you have some great memories and people to share them with on the 21st July.

Richard Curtis

PS I still get a great thrill out of watching rocket launches and particularly watching SpaceX land their first stage back on earth for reuse. All of these events now easily watched over the Internet.