Prologue: To the Moon and Back...

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Prologue: To the Moon and Back...

I'm not sure quite why my daughter Emma (aged approximately six-and-three-quarters) suddenly asked "...but are there any spaceships in real land, Daddy?" But of course no parent can resist playing the story-teller and sage, so I fell for it immediately. I launched into my reminiscence of the first manned space flight to the moon:

Well, you know Emma, I was just 10 years old then, way back in 1968, when Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and what was that other guy's name? Never mind, it'll come back to me. I can still remember vividly sitting up into the early hours of the morning on that July day (or was it June?), when Armstrong stepped down from the landing module, and said those immortal words, "That's a small step for me, but a giant leap into the dark" ...Or, at least, I'm sure he said something more or less like that.

It was no use. I would have to get help. So I fired up the MPC with the 21-volume Grolier's Academic American Encyclopedia (a snip at just £25 when I first bought the MPC system!); now, access the alphabetic index, type in A-P-O-L-L-O; yes, there it is, hardly 20 seconds after going to the MPC, I can read out:

   Launched July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 made the first manned lunar
   landing on July 20.  As Lt.  Col.  Michael COLLINS orbited the
   Moon in the mother ship Columbia, Neil ARMSTRONG and Col.
   Edwin E.  ALDRIN, Jr., touched down on the basaltic regolith
   of Mare Tranquillitatis (Sea of Tranquility) in the Lunar
   Module Eagle at 4:17:42 PM Eastern Daylight Time, with the
   historic report: "Houston, Tranquility Base here.  The Eagle
   has landed." Armstrong was the first out:  he stepped on the
   surface at 10:56 PM that day.  Dropping the last meter from
   the ladder, he said: "That's one small step for {a} man, one
   giant leap for mankind" (NASA later reported that the word a
   had been lost in transmission).

     Apollo program
     Richard S. Lewis
     Copyright 1992, Grolier Electronic Publishing, Inc.

Yes, it all comes back to me now. I knew there was a giant leap in there somewhere. 10:56 PM EDT, that would be about 4:00 AM here - I guess I did stay up pretty late! Collins, that was the third guy. I should have remembered that. Not to be confused with the famous Irish Michael Collins, who (of course) is the very next entry in the name index, so with a click on the button we can read:

   Michael Collins, b.  Oct.  16, 1890, was one of the founders
   of the Irish Free State.  He participated in the EASTER RISING
   of 1916, and after the founding (1919) of Dail Eireann, the
   revolutionary assembly, he served as minister of finance in
   the revolutionary government and as one of the leaders of the
   IRISH REPUBLICAN ARMY.  In 1921 he was one of the Irish
   delegates to the conference that negotiated the treaty
   creating the Irish Free State.  Together with Arthur GRIFFITH,
   he led the pro-treaty side when SINN FEIN split over
   acceptance of the treaty.  During the ensuing civil war,
   Collins was killed in an ambush on Aug.  22, 1922.

     Collins, Michael (Irish revolutionary statesman)
     David W.  Miller
     Copyright 1992, Grolier Electronic Publishing, Inc.

Not too bad for an American encyclopedia. Anyway - what's that Emma? How old do you have to be to go to the moon? Well, I don't know about that, but we can get some more information about the first astronauts to do it. Let's just click on Armstrong's name and see what it says:

   The American astronaut Neil Alden Armstrong, b. Wapakoneta,
   Ohio, Aug. 5, 1930, was the first person to walk on the Moon.
   Armstrong received his pilot's license on his 16th birthday.
   After two years at Purdue University, he joined the navy and
   flew combat missions over Korea. He returned to Purdue,
   obtained his aeronautical engineering degree in 1955, and
   became a test pilot. At Edwards Air Force base he flew the
   X-15 rocket plane a total of seven times. In 1962 he was
   selected as an astronaut. His first flight (1966) was as
   commander of GEMINI 8; a thruster failure aborted the flight
   after 10 hr 41 min.

     Armstrong, Neil A.
     David Dooling
     Copyright 1992, Grolier Electronic Publishing, Inc.

Gosh - he got his pilot's license when he was just 16. He wasn't even old enough to get a driving license! There's his picture too - see the big spacesuit he had to wear, and the enormous helmet! But look, there's a sound clip - you want to hear what he sounds like? Let's click on it and listen:

[hiss] 'Gonna [?] step off the LEM now [pause] That's one small step for [click] man, one giant leap for mankind...

Well that really does bring it back. Let's play it one more time, and see if we can spot whether he says "a" man ...No, I really can't tell either. Pardon? What does a spaceship really look like. Well, it's sort of big, and pointy, and flames come out at the bottom and - no, wait a minute, I think there's a video clip with that Apollo article; let's just click back on it again. Yes, there's a clip of Apollo 11 taking off - let's play it will we?

...Hey, that was pretty loud, wasn't it? Did you see the great orange flames and the clouds of smoke shooting out as it started up. Imagine being right next to one of those when it takes off!

What? You're tired of looking at spaceships? You want to go to the zoo, and hear the story about Gordy the baby gorilla? Well, OK, since we're at the MPC anyway, let's take a trip to San Diego Zoo. You can do it yourself? Hmmm - be careful, that Zoo cost over £20...

Document: Who Needs Electronic Books?

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Tue Feb 28 16:00:51 GMT 1995