Remembering the excitement of waiting for Neil Armstrong to emerge from the Lunar Module

Professor Barry C Smith, Leadership Fellow for Science in Culture at the Arts & Humanities Research Council

photograph of a black and white television showing the Moon landings

An estimated 600 million people watched the Moon landings. Professor Barry C Smith, Leadership Fellow for Science in Culture at the Arts & Humanities Research Council, who was aged 11 in 1969, was one of the many who waited to witness this historical moment. “The picture was so blurry that you could just make out the leg of the lunar module – I remember staring at it for ages. It took a long time for Neil Armstrong to come out. I was mesmerised as I watched the white boot gingerly testing out the rungs of the ladder before eventually checking to see if the Moon could take the weight of his foot.”

Professor Smith likened the quality of the black and white TV image to an internal medical scan.

“It felt extraordinary knowing that humans would be sleeping on this remote lunar landscape. It was a real heart-in-the-mouth moment. And while it was hugely exciting, I remember thinking the next stage is whether these astronauts can get back to earth safely.

“The anticipation of the event was huge. Apollo 8 was the first time a spacecraft had orbited the Moon and been out of radio contact when circling the dark side of the Moon. All of that preparation gave us a great insight into the workings of the spacecraft and the names astronauts gave them.

“As a boy I was absolutely fascinated with the Moon landings. For each mission I kept a daily diary updating a drawing book with descriptions and diagrams, recording every stage from the launch of the Saturn V rocket to the command and lunar modules hooking up, circling the Moon and the landing. Being a pre-internet age, it was hard to get information, so TV, newspapers and magazine images were crucial. They helped to seal this iconic moment in my memory and the memory of millions.”