It was a fortuitous coincidence I happened to be in Cork on a summer’s day in 1963. The city traffic authorities were organising an unprecedented amount of diversions and had blocked all vehicles from the city centre. A famous man was visiting that day nobody in the country had failed to hear about. It was none other than the President of America, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. He was returning to his ancestral roots in Wexford and a state visit was organised to celebrate the occasion.
The crowds present, cheered and applauded as the motorcade swept past along Patrick Street., into the Grand Parade and down the Mall. J. F. K. stood up in the open-top car and waved. He looked so fit and tanned and happy. Little did we realize then his skin colour was mainly due to his necessity to take drugs for a serious disease. His speeches were often quoted and his presence drew vast crowds wherever he appeared.
Space travel was the fascination of many readers as the science fiction authors for years had produced numerous books. Comics and cartoons depicted visits to various planets, and of course contact with strangers elsewhere! One obvious target or goal was the scientists dream, a visit to the moon. The newspaper headlines in the 60’s were the same as always – tragedy, war, economy and achievements by individuals and groups.
Some Germans had been testing rockets during the 1939-45 war and following cessation of hostilities some rocket experts came to the U.S.A. A futuristic base was developed at Cape Canaveral in Florida. A goal was a challenge and the motivation of adventure and even competition by the Communists had J.F.K’s blood racing.
News such as “We are going to the Moon” had many people excited and maybe even sceptical! All scientists want is a blank cheque and a drawing board. Not long after photographs began to appear of volunteers to undergo testing and training for the arduous journey. These guys had to have exceptional ability, mentally and physically.
John Glenn is the memorable name, he was a pioneer. The Russians sent a dog into orbit. Monkeys were also sent up!
The President set a time limit of ten years! So a launch pad was built and rockets were developed that malfunctioned and rose off the ground and then keeled over.
Eventually the great day was set. I reckon testing and experimenting was going on for years as so much technology was involved. The stress and “unknown” was a trial for the human body. The snippets of news and progress were gripping stuff.
These were momentous times and memorable for personal reasons too. My wife Daphne was expecting our first born. Then quite unexpectedly, my dad got a heart attack from which he passed away, so shocking, we missed him greatly, his friends wept. I wish he could have lived to see a grandson born in the old home where he was born on the 13th October 1895. Our son was born on 30th August 1969 and we named him George.
There was a seven-week gap between the 5th July 1969 and August 30th. It was during that period on July 20th that the chosen trio, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins departed this planet and set off for the momentous journey into space. Those were anxious times, exciting days, anticipating periods, hoping praying and finally elation. They made it! Despite the necessity to do so many chores on a small farm this major bit of history was gripping stuff on television. Those minutes we had to wait impatiently for a spaceman to appear and descend to the moon surface seemed so annoyingly too long.
However as Mr Armstrong had memorised his momentous words and eventually announced “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” to us mere earthlings came as a relief. Those “Yanks” are no joke. I can recall remembering frequently how wonderful for us on earth that the Americans had shared their moments of success with the armchair occupants so far below. We were almost part of a sensational achievement: it was a time to admire and with all those involved congratulations.
They were great men. It was difficult to comprehend the enormity of the occasion and what it took to let us witness an event so far away. I often recall the moment when I look up and see the moon and think what pleasure the events of 1969 and what followed at Cape Canaveral brought to so many.
George Beare, Bandon, Co. Cork, Ireland
George Beare, Bandon, Co. Cork, Ireland
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