By Ahmet Abdulaziz….
Recently I came to know that Frank Sinatra had recorded a song in 1964 with the title, “Fly me to the Moon”. That was the year when NASA was working with the dream to “fly a man to the moon”.
In 1961 President John F. Kennedy had announced the national goal by saying that “before this decade is out, landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”
NASA was working on the Apollo series of space expeditions, with the ultimate aim of taking men to the moon. A dream, so technical and difficult indeed took years to become a reality.
My father had been a subscriber of LIFE and TIME, since I was in primary school in the 1960s. Though I was not much interested in TIME in those days, I was more interested in LIFE, which included very detailed articles and photographs of the astronauts and the ongoing American Space programs.
All of us can understand that at my tender age, I was interested in space programs and astronauts. News and photographs about them were always thrilling to me, and increased my interest.
I was very small when Gagarin carried out the first orbit of the earth in 1961, and kicked off the space competition between USSR and USA. I remember the way LIFE used to issue photographs and news reports about John Glenn, Alan Shepard, etc.
I remember that once I had tried to make a pencil sketch of John Glenn, which was perhaps one of my earliest endeavours of portrait drawings.
I was shocked and equally thrilled by reading the reports about the way a fire broke out inside the space capsule and three astronauts were burnt to death when their capsule was still on earth, and they were carrying out their experiments and training. The year was 1967.
The competition for space supremacy was continuing between the USSR and USA. Over the years the USSR had also sent a number of cosmonauts in space and had moved forward in her space programs. Since the source of all my news about these was LIFE magazine, I obviously was not getting much news about the achievements of the Russian cosmonauts. However, what I did know was that the American astronauts had to splash down in the sea on their return from space, whereas the Russian cosmonauts used to land on earth. When I first came to know that I had thought that Russians must be stronger than their counterparts to achieve this distinction.
As time passed, it looked as if the Russians had backed off from the goal of sending men to the moon. The Americans kept putting on pressure to achieve this goal before the end of the 1960s, which they did.
I was in the tenth grade in 1969 and was thrilled to follow the news about Apollo 11 which had left earth, with Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, on 16th July 1969, with the aim to land the first man on the moon. I had already known most of the details, from newspapers and magazines, about how the landing would be done. I had learned the names of the Astronauts, who would step onto the moon, and the one who would not step on the moon’s surface, but would continue orbiting around the moon.
I remember watching the moon landing on television and the way I had felt myself to be in space. However, I felt very sorry for Michael Collins who though was on the same Apollo 11, he was not supposed to land on the moon. Then, and even now, I feel in my heart that he would have been thinking by being part of the mission and seeing his two friends landing on the moon, though not very far away, he could only watch them going through the unforgettable moment of human history. I felt sorry for him then. But as we all know he too had played a very crucial role in this historic event.
I was excessively excited to watch the moon landing on 20th July 1969 on television. However, I am not sure now, if I had watched it in a live telecast, or a little later. However, I am sure my eyes would have popped out watching Neil Armstrong walking on the moon, but at the same time my heart had remained with Michael Collins, who was still orbiting around the moon, but not allowed to step on moon. For him the situation was something like, “So near yet so far“.
I remember, for a long period of time, sketching the spaceships and astronauts in their space suits remained my passion.
Now once again 20th July is just around the corner, and once again I find myself in July 1969, living through those suspense filled days of the moon landing.