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Celebrating 50 years since the first Moon Landing

To celebrate 50 years since the first Moon landing, the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the UK Space Agency have teamed up to launch a crowd-sourced history campaign, to showcase some of the fascinating memories and insights from this landmark moment.

Barry C Smith

Professor Barry C Smith is a Leadership Fellow for Science in Culture at the Arts & Humanities Research Council and director of the Institute of Philosophy at the University of London’s School of Advanced Study.

We caught up with AHRC’s Leadership Fellow for Science in Culture, Professor Barry C Smith to find out more about the cultural impact of the 1969 Apollo 11 Moon landing.

Professor Barry C Smith’s role as Leadership Fellow involves bringing together the work of researchers in science with arts and humanities.  “There’s a surprising connection between the different disciplines that you wouldn’t necessarily imagine,” explains Professor Smith. “I don’t see culture as being removed from science. As one of our award holders, physicist, Tom McLeish puts it, ‘science is a large and important chapter in culture; that forms one part of our ability to make sense of our world’.”

This link between science and the humanities encapsulates the significance of the 1969 Apollo 11 Moon landing - it was not only a huge feat for science and technology, but it also infiltrated almost every aspect of popular culture.

“As a boy I was absolutely fascinated with the Moon landings. I had a spiral bound notebook which I updated every day with drawings, descriptions and diagrams. As it was a pre-internet age, it was hard to get information so we had to rely on regular news bulletins and newspapers instead.”

Throughout history explorers have travelled to dangerous and remote places; from Captain Robert Falcon Scott who battled extreme temperatures to reach the South Pole, to Christopher Columbus who had to contend with the perils of the sea. But as Professor Smith points out, the Moon landing was the first event in our living memory of a similar nature. “It was the bravery, the risk-taking and the spirit in which the space race took place that makes this the most pioneering endeavour of humanity. It demonstrated that human beings could extend their reach even further, beyond our world.

“To this day, this is the furthest we have gone from the safety of the earth - and the weightlessness of space is itself a medium beyond the conditions we were born to cope with. 

“I think we’ve become blasé over just how much of a wondrous moment and a unique achievement it was. Not just in terms of science and technology, but because every nation right across the planet came together.  It was a twentieth century moment that required the technology of TV coverage.

“There are so few events now in which we are all brought together at the same moment. In today’s world, we can now access images at the touch of a button, but at that moment all of us were seeing and watching the same thing. We shouldn’t forget that heart-stopping moment as the images and words were sent back to us when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the Moon. It was breathtaking.

“I think it’s important that we remember and celebrate this iconic moment while we still have the chance to hear from those who were fortunate enough to witness it at the time. This event made us rethink who we were and what we were capable of.”

The Moon landings inspired countless books, songs and films, while science fiction and the dystopian genre gripped the public’s imagination, but as well as its impact on creativity, it also prompted an environmental movement according to Professor Smith: “Astronauts developed a passionate concern for protecting the environment: our fragile home.

“Societally, it made people aware of our place in the universe - not just our vulnerability but also our responsibility and how we must protect the planet. The public also realised that we could lobby for certain things that mattered to us, from advancing healthcare to environmental change. As a generation we were much more idealistic.”

Today, the work and achievements that helped to make the 1969 Apollo 11 Moon landings so successful can be spotted in many of the items that we use every day. From Teflon frying pans, to the wearable devices many of us use to monitor physical wellbeing.  “Even the large banks of computer power once needed by NASA to launch the Saturn V rocket into space can be found in our smartphone devices,” explains Professor Smith.

Do you have a memory to share? Head over to moonlandingmemories.com to submit your personal stories, images and memories.

Associated image credit: UK Space Agency

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