One small step that was out of this world...

PUBLISHED: 11:21 16 July 2009 | UPDATED: 16:56 25 August 2010

MOONWALK: Apollo crew.

MOONWALK: Apollo crew.

Where were you just before 4am on Sunday, July 21, 1969?, writes historian Bob Ogley.

Where were you just before 4am on Sunday, July 21, 1969?, writes historian Bob Ogley.

Were you fast asleep in bed or were you one of the hundreds of millions who were watching American astronaut, Neil Armstrong, commander of Apollo 11, step off the ladder of the lunar module Eagle onto the moon?

Sunday has always been a quiet day in north Kent but this one was unusually so as television viewers, mostly watching black-and-white pictures, continued to follow the climax of the Apollo mission, four days after blast off from Cape Kennedy. "The surface of the moon has a soft beauty all of its own," I remember Armstrong saying. "It's like a desert of the United States."

By Sunday lunchtime, the pubs in towns and villages were deserted and the clubs empty while the afternoon cinema matinees continued to an empty auditorium. Everyone was watching the lunanauts. A few rare homes had colour televisions and these were invaded by friends. On the Monday after the landing, crowds were stilll gathered around the television rental shops watching Arm-

strong and Aldrin bounce around on the surface of the moon.

One man closely involved with the mission was Commander Hatfield, of Clarendon Road, Sevenoaks. A British Astronomical Association colleague of television's Patrick Moore, he was in the ITV studios throughout the Frost programme with an audience made up of astronomers.

Cmdr Hatfield was one of this country's leading authorities on the lunar section of the BAA. It was on the first moon orbit that he astounded the scientists of the world by photographing the moon from many thousands of miles. He photographed Apollo 11 as it was venting oxygen and revealed the actual moment of jettison. His pictures were used in newspapers all over the world.

Some years earlier he and Patrick Moore had bet fellow scientists 2s 6d each that man would not be able to land on the moon before 1971 because of problems with the radiation belt. The two men were reminded of this and had to hand over their half crowns.

Not everyone was happy with the space adventure. Jennifer Clarke, of Oxfam, said: "One Saturn Five booster rocket costing something like £5billion is more than sufficient to provide primary school education to every child born in India over the next decade." Fr Dominic O'Sullivan, of the Roman Catholic Church, disagreed. "It has been a remarkable achievement," he said. "People in America spend more than that each year on ice cream and tobacco."

Several WI branches in Gravesend and Dartford area predicted that they would be organising trips to the moon in about 40 years time (2009). They considered progress would be on a par with air and road travel!

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