To The Stars With Apollo XI

Posted: September 18th, 2023

For most of my life I have been fascinated by man’s desire to reach the stars and thoughtful science fiction has always excited me. This interest was fuelled by growing up through the Space Race as the USSR and the US of A battled it out to be top dog beyond the Earth’s atmosphere. In 1969, NASA landed a craft on the surface of the Moon and the race was apparently won. As a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut exploring new galaxies and to go where no child had gone before.

When I was recovering from cancer twenty years ago I revisited childhood interests that I had forgotten about. This included dinosaurs (I even bought a dinosaur footprint, which I still have to this day) and astronauts. I dedicated time, effort and money into collecting signed astronaut photographs and being a documentary maker, I was especially interested in reportage and documentary images. I immersed myself in the art of collecting and learnt a whole lot I didn’t know about the space race and what it took to land a person on the moon.

I can remember vaguely being got out of bed as a young child to watch the moon landing but couldn’t remember where I was and presumed it must have been at home. I had forgotten all about this until a few years ago when Jackie and I went to the Isles of Scilly on holiday as I was keen to visit the islands where my parents and I spent every summer holiday when I was a kid. We often stayed at the Star Castle, an old Elizabethan castle, built in 1593 in the shape of an eight-pointed star on a high point of the main island, St Mary’s. It was converted into a wonderful hotel a long time ago and for my return I booked us in for a holiday.

35 years on from my last visit, we arrived at the small airport on St Mary’s. We stepped off the helicopter and I was hit by a feeling of deja vu, but of course it was my memories coming back to me. I knew exactly where I was and when we arrived at the hotel, I recognised everything, even knowing the room that I used to stay in. Every year I would find that the toys that I had the previous year would be waiting for me in my room. Some of which I would have grown out of, but cricket bats and footballs and tennis balls and racquets were timeless. The hotel put everything away for me every year. What service! On this revisit, I asked, “Have you got my old toys?” This non-plussed them but then I explained. Sadly, my toys had gone. Ah well…

As we walked the old ramparts, we walked back into the hotel and we entered the TV room, which was the same room as I remember. The years rolled back and images flooded my mind and  I blurted out, “I watched the moon landing in this room!” How the mind works and how place can trigger forgotten memories is incredible. This room created a bond between me and astronauts.

Many space collectors dedicate themselves to the official white spacesuit portraits, released with each mission. But as a documentary filmmaker I was more fascinated to try and collect signed reportage photos. Over the years I sold off the majority of my collection but my favourite pieces I kept hold of. Until now.

Of course the most coveted of all space autographs is Neil Armstrong and this picture is my absolute favourite from my collecting days. The photo is dedicated to a very well-known collector and this picture I just adore. I love the fact that we are inside the Lunar Module Simulator watching Armstrong in his spacesuit, undergoing training under a month before the Apollo 11 launch. What never ceases to amaze me is how home-made everything looks. It could have been a school project made out of sticky-back plastic and toilet rolls. (Can you still get sticky-back plastic?) I’m being a little unfair as they did get to the moon and back. (Hold the conspiracy theories, please!)

Astronauts allowed us mere mortals to dream that anything was possible if you set your mind to it and if I’m totally honest I still harbour ambitions of becoming an astronaut. Life is for exploration and discovery and travelling to the stars has always appealed. I may well have missed my slot but I can still dream, can’t I?

I also have a photo of Michael Collins, the Command Module pilot, pictured here training before the flight in the Command Module simulator. I always wonder what it must have been like for Michael Collins as he circled the moon as his mates got to walk on the moon. I guess away from a deep sense of isolation, which he has talked about, he wished them well and concentrated on his orbital mission and would welcome them back onboard as the three became history makers.

What is interesting is the lack of photos of Armstrong on the moon as all of them feature Buzz Aldrin. Officially there is deemed to be only this one full-length photo of Armstrong on the moon’s surface.

He also appears reflected in Aldrin’s classic standing pose and several photos exist taken from 16mm film shot on the moon and from the live camera-feed footage which was beamed back to Earth. The rest of the photos taken during the short time they spent on the moon (21 hours and 36 minutes including seven hours of sleep) were all of Aldrin.

Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins came back to Earth to ticker-tape parades and travelled the world as heroes on an exhausting tour of meet and greets. Their autographs were, and still are, highly prized. Even though they signed so much it is still hard to come by their signatures, especially a crew-signed item. This pennant shows the merchandise that was being created in honour of these astronauts. I also love the over the top way it’s been framed and presented. It tells a story, that’s for sure.

Now we expect to do extraordinary things as we prepare to travel to Mars and fictional TV space captains actually end up in real space. But none of this would have been possible without the brave endeavours of all those brave astronauts, from the USSR and the USA, some of whom died in the line of duty during those space missions in the 60’s. The space race has begun again and is ever more ambitious and who knows what will come next as we move ever further to fulfilling the dream of landing on distant worlds.