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Moon landings: 'It wasn't science fiction - it was fact'



Professor Alan Fitzsimmons

Professor Alan Fitzsimmons

Gloria Hunniford

Gloria Hunniford

Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images

Eamonn Holmes

Eamonn Holmes


Paul Clarke

Paul Clarke

Roisin McAuley

Roisin McAuley


Professor Alan Fitzsimmons

Are you old enough to remember the Moon landings? Linda Stewart talks to some well-known NI faces about their memories of Apollo 11

Professor Alan Fitzsimmons, of the Astrophysics Research Centre at  Queen's University Belfast, studied the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko from Earth for years before the Philae probe landed on it.

I remember seeing a Saturn V rocket lifting off on the TV that year. I was five years old at the time, but I don't know if it was Apollo 10, which was the dress rehearsal in May that year, or if it was Apollo 11 or the follow-up mission, which was Apollo 12.

We forget it was a huge rush to get to the Moon ahead of Russia. Now it's unusual to have more than one mission a year, but that year there were three.

I'm now sitting here with a piece of Moon rock on my desk and certainly I remember in the following year - at the age of six - the excitement about Apollo 13 and whether or not the astronauts were going to return to Earth.

I remember watching Thunderbirds that year and the important thing was that what was happening in that kids' programme was happening in real life. I remember realising that people could go to the Moon.

One of the things that came out of the Apollo programme was that six years later a friend showed me the Moon through a small telescope and you could see the craters and the mountains - and that's what took me to the Astrophysics Department at Queen's.

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Gloria Hunniford, broadcaster

I was passionate about all the Apollo missions and used to follow them religiously. I would set my alarm to get up in the middle of the night to watch them, depending on which one it was.

Subsequently they did a card with a little notch for medals in it and I collected the medals for all the Moon landings.

I was fascinated and intrigued to watch them on the television - I thought they were just magical.

I do get annoyed with all these conspiracy documentaries that claim they didn't land on the Moon - of course they did.

Eamonn Holmes, broadcaster

I was 10 years of age and it was probably the most magical time in my life. It was a very good time to be around - there were a lot of science-fiction programmes on TV like Star Trek and Lost in Space and Thunderbirds, but this was science fact.

The magic of all of that was watching it on a grainy black-and-white television and watching James Burke, who was the BBC anchor for all of this - he held it all together in the studio. Patrick Moore was in the studio too and I was glued to it.

It's the single most amazing expedition that mankind has ever seen, but the technology was incredibly primitive - the mobile phone that I'm talking on to you now has more advanced technology than Apollo 11 had.

I pestered my mother into buying Sugar Puffs because they had iron-on badges from the Apollo missions. You could peel these patches, which were the size of the palm of your hand, and iron them onto a bomber jacket.

They brought out a special-edition Action Man, the astronaut version, and the biggest thing of all was to get the Airfix Saturn V rocket, a model of the rocket that was used in the mission in 1969.

In school we made a Saturn V rocket from Fairy Liquid bottles and toilet roll tubes.

Life, whether we like it or not, can be a bit banal and here was something around which the whole world could unite.

It will always make me feel full of excitement and happy memories - I had a whole toy army dedicated to it.

We even bought Clarks shoes from somewhere on the Shankill Road and they had silver soles and lunar craters as grips on the bottom - I think they had a compass in the heel. Cereal, shoes, you name it, I had it.

Paul Clark, UTV presenter

Space travel at that time was part and parcel of my life. I was 15 and I remember it very clearly. I remember it was hard to look at it in isolation.

All my childhood was filled with stories of the race to the Moon. I knew about Yuri Gagarin, John Glenn - these were the names that I grew up with.

I recollect it being on very late at night - I was on my school holidays, so I got to stay up and watch - and I remember my father being as excited as I was.

You were aware it was a moment of history. Nobody had ever been on the Moon before.

As a teenager in my formative years of my life, it's something that stuck with me.

Roisin McAuley, broadcaster

The strange thing is that I sort of remember the Moon landing itself - one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind and all that.

But what I remember most was, weeks later, being in the west of Ireland and meeting a man on the road who stopped and said to me, "I hear there's a man who's been to the Moon - is that true?" And I said, "Yes, it's true", and he said "Good Lord".

He was just astonished and we spent a couple of minutes wondering about this and saying, "Isn't it amazing?"

You're talking about places that didn't have a telephone, never mind a television.

That conversation brought the whole kind of magic and mystery and the extraordinary nature of the achievement home to me like nothing else could.

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