Sunday, 26 August 2012

Neil Armstrong

When I was really young and still at junior school (Bishop Billsborrow Memorial School, right next to Princess Road Bus Depot. Both sadly pulled down to make way for houses now), the three big topics for discussion were would anyone run a mile in under 4 minutes, would anyone break the Sound Barrier and would Man get to the Moon. In May 1954 Roger Bannister did run a mile in under 4 minutes beating American John Landy to the prize. The Sound Barrier had been broken in 1947 but that was in a Bell XS-1 rocket power plane which only flew for 15 minutes and not really an aeroplane as such but by the mid fifties many combat aeroplanes were indeed breaking the sound barrier. Only one left and the Americans were determined to be the first on the moon ahead of the Russians.

I can still clearly remember the excitement as Apollo 11 set of for the Moon and sat up most of the night in July 1969 to watch a grainy black and white TV picture of Neil Armstrong taking his giant leap for mankind.

Of the 3 accomplishments, the 4 minute mile, the sound barrier and the landing on the Moon it can be said that the latter, while the most expensive and bravest and technically exacting has been the least successful. Athletes regularly improve running times though not the mile, it's the 1500 metres now. Planes are built that don't even bother about the effort of going through the sound barrier, look at Concorde, twice the speed of sound carrying a huindred passengers and the Americans built a plane, the Lockheed SR-71 which flew at 2400 miles per hour. So running faster and flying faster, no problem. It's going to the Moon that didn't take of as it were and I have a feeling that Neil Armstrong would have found that hard to understand.

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