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

 

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Professor Alan Fitzsimmons

Professor Alan Fitzsimmons

Gloria Hunniford

Gloria Hunniford

Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images

Eamonn Holmes

Eamonn Holmes

PA

Paul Clarke

Paul Clarke

Roisin McAuley

Roisin McAuley

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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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