Saluting unsung heroes who helped create treasured 50-year-old memory of the 1969 moon landing
PUBLISHED: 17:36 24 July 2019 | UPDATED: 17:36 24 July 2019
David Clayton has loved rewatching the footage from the first moon landing as the 50th anniversary of the event took place. But there are two people who made the whole thing possible as a TV spectacle and he wants to thank them
As you read this, you can feel relieved that 50 years ago the crew of Apollo 11 were safely back on earth, in quarantine, just to ensure they hadn't brought back a moon bug.
I tell you this because we've been privileged over this last week or so to relive that amazing mission which put men on the moon. I have been transfixed by the re-runs of some memorable footage, but the commemorative party is now over.
Some 15 years ago we were doing the Disney thing in Florida but on my insistence abandoned the lure of the theme parks for one day and visited the Kennedy Space Center 60 miles away.
There's a family video of me standing beneath the massive Saturn V rocket which fills an equally massive building. I'm genuinely emotional, and it shows. I had a lump in my throat at being that close to something I'd marvelled at as I sat in front of a black and white TV in our lounge on Burgh Road in Gorleston.
I'd watched every moment of each Apollo mission. It wasn't difficult because with only three TV channels, there was no getting away from the magnitude of what was going on, as America launched their ambitious space missions getting ever closer to the moon. It was compelling TV and my teenage years were totally absorbed with it.
The Apollo 11 crew, Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins, have told their tales many times so while I'm in awe and always have been of what they did, I have two other personal heroes of Apollo 11. They are at the centre of my heady memories and I would love to meet them just to shake hands and say, "Thank you."
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Step forward James Burke. He made the science understandable while at the same time wallowing in the sheer excitement of what was unfolding. Alongside the wonderfully eccentric Patrick Moore in his ill-fitting suit, James was a young and modern TV presenter with an engaging personality. Had it not been for him, the BBC would have closed down after Aldrin and Armstrong had landed on the lunar surface.
Their moonwalk was scheduled for after they'd rested, however James Burke was listening-in to the astronaut's conversations via the NASA feed. It was clear to him they were preparing to go out on to the moon's surface as soon as they could. Burke pleaded with a BBC controller to stay on air just on the back of his hunch.
Overnight broadcasts had never happened before on the BBC - it was unprecedented. Thanks to James Burke, I and millions of others shared that incredible moment.
Then, I would so like to meet and say thank you to the man who was in charge. He was Gene Kranz, one of NASA's flight directors. With, literally, the world watching he had to make decisions on which the lives of three astronauts and America's reputation depended. He built around him a young team of technicians, engineers and scientists, but more than that he led them.
Among a few things I do now, I run courses on leadership, and I wish I could have Gene Kranz beside me as a shining example. He demanded the highest standards of his team, telling them: "Failure is not an option." But he trusted them and said so. "You are a hell of a good team, one I am privileged to lead. I will stand behind every decision you will make. We came into this room as a team and we will leave as a team," is what he told them,
Good leaders challenge, they set an example and they take responsibility. Gene Kranz epitomised that not only with Apollo 11 but the dramatic return of the stricken Apollo 13.
Strong leadership in a time of crisis.
Now then, where might that be handy right now?