Stars and planets have fascinated mankind since time immemorial. With the progress of civilisation, man's quest for the outer world took many forms. He trekked through the mysteries of astrology and also evolved over centuries to explore the limitless profundity of astronomy. In recent times, when spacecrafts are being sent from Earth to Mars and even Saturn, it reminds me of an important event that took place exactly 44 years ago when man set foot on the moon for the first time.
I was a student of Class 10 and had gone to Banikhet, a hamlet near Dalhousie in Himachal Pradesh, after the annual exams. One of my uncles was the headmaster of the government school there. Given to his scientific temperament, he made my cousins and me stay awake that night and sit near his old Phillips radio set to listen to the running commentary of this landmark event.
All India Radio was found wanting on that occasion as none of its stations was relaying anything related to this great happening. Most of the news was devoted to the then prime minister's resolve to nationalise some private banks and about her differences with her deputy, who incidentally was also the finance minister of the country.
Soon, a neighbour told us that Radio Ceylon (later Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation) was relaying the commentary. After trying real hard on the short wave frequency, we succeeded in tuning in to the station.
The commentary was being relayed in English courtesy the Voice of America and was punctuated in Hindi by Radio Ceylon. My uncle briefed us about the Apollo-11 space mission and told about the hard work put in by the scientific community in this regard. The spacecraft consisted of the command and service module named Columbia and the lunar module named Eagle. While the main spacecraft had one of the astronauts in it circling the moon, the lunar module with two astronauts was detached from it. As the commentators were telling and counting the final moments of the mission we grew excited and it was around midnight when we heard the line, "The Eagle has landed." Our joy knew no bounds and all of us, including the neighbours, danced to this splendid feat.
The next morning my uncle declared a holiday in his school, while I continued to keep track of the commentary. I vividly remember the moment when Neil Armstrong came out of the Eagle to set foot on the moon followed by the other astronaut, Edwin Aldrin. As he walked bumpily on that alien land, I listened to his famous words, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
As a teenager, I was awestruck to have witnessed this event. Putting man on the moon not only inspired the Americans but also the entire world. The 1960s was a turbulent era of the cold war in world history and the moon landing was said to be an accomplishment at a time when much else was going wrong in the world.