Sunday September 2, 2012
The awe and excitement of watching the first man on the moon remains fresh in the minds of many.
MALAYSIANS of a certain age will remember exactly where they were when Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong took his “giant leap for mankind” on July 20, 1969. Star2 speaks to a handle of those who, like hundreds of millions of people worldwide, sat agog before their TV sets to watch man’s historic first steps on the moon.
Armstrong died in the United States last Saturday at the age of 82, but his legacy of “service, accomplishment and modesty” will come to mind every time you look up at the moon.
Dain Said, director of the acclaimed film Bunohan, had the good fortune of witnessing a live telecast of the Apollo moon landing in London. His family had just moved to the United Kingdom because his father wanted to further his studies, which had been disrupted by the Japanese Occupation.
“I was about nine at the time,” Dain remembers. “We had just moved into our house and didn’t have a TV. So we walked to a friend’s place to watch the telecast.”
He remembers the intense feeling throughout the day that a huge, momentous event was about to happen.
“I can’t recall exactly what time it was, but I do remember we all watched with bated breath. There were not many events in those days that brought people together. Everyone was geared up for it and they were all waiting in houses and pubs. It was like the FIFA World Cup.”
Some images of the landing are etched in Dain’s memory: Armstrong jumping off the ladder of the lunar module, the view from the module’s window, and the lunar landscape with the earth in the background.
“Everyone got quite emotional because back then you could not imagine that a man could set foot on the moon,” he says. “Technology then wasn’t what it is today and people didn’t really live with technology so much. So it all felt like a fantasy or a dream.”
He is not quite sure if all the images were from the live telecast or from clips which he saw much later. But the one thing Dain is sure he saw as a boy that year was the image of an astronaut hopping on the surface of the moon.
Jovian Lee, copywriter and creative group head of Leo Burnett, has vague memories of seeing the moon landing on a black-and-white TV set back in 1969. He was only four then, but the images have stayed with him all his life.
“We were in our house in Ipoh,” Lee says. “I don’t remember if there was any excitement, or if the entire family was watching, but I do recall my nanny was lying on the floor in front of the TV with a Milo tin as a headrest!”
He can still remember the black-and-white images of an American flag and “something or someone bouncing around, and some crackly sound.
“Some years later, I watched a movie on TV that had a moon with a human face. A rocket then shot into one of its eyes, and it looked annoyed. It was only last year that I realised what film it was when I saw it again in Singapore.”
Lee is referring to Georges Melies’ 1902 silent film, A Trip To The Moon. He thinks his fascination with that moon image probably has to do with his witnessing the moon landing as a child.
Consultant Rosy Roslan and husband Sallehudin Mokhtar both have distinct memories of watching Armstrong and crew, and their lunar adventure.
Rosy was 11 then and studying at an international school in Bangkok, where a TV had been set up in every classroom to await the landing.
“It was a big deal and they made it compulsory for all the students to watch,” says Rosy.
“We didn’t really know what was going on, but the teachers explained to us what was happening.”
She remembers seeing footages of the astronauts jumping and hopping in what looked like slow motion. After that day, all of Bangkok went moon-crazy, with shops and department stores selling all sorts of memorabilia, from pictures to toys and even glassware.
“We also bought some,” she says. “At the time, there were American GIs in Bangkok because of the Vietnam War. So everything that had (anything) to do with the United States was celebrated there in a big way.”
Sallehudin, meanwhile, was 12 and studying in Maxwell Road School in Kuala Lumpur. He remembers the teachers stopping classes and gathering everyone at the assembly area where a couple of TV sets had been placed.
“They told us we were going to witness history in the making. So, along with hundreds of other students, I saw the moon landing. I was in complete awe because I couldn’t believe they could send a man to the moon and back. I was glued to the TV!”
Sallehudin also remembers CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite describing what was happening on TV. For him, what was more memorable than Armstrong stepping off the ladder and onto the moon’s surface was the spacecraft circling the moon, and the moment the lunar module separated from the craft.
The event affected him so much that he later studied and worked in the field of space applications.
“If I ever get the chance to go to the International Space Station, I will not hesitate at all,” he says.
Joe Hasham, co-founder and artistic director of The Actors Studio and Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre, was a 21-year-old theatre graduate when Armstrong performed his historic walk on the moon.
“The absolute details of the event are a little hazy, but I do recall huddling around a TV with several of my actor friends who were rehearsing with me. I have a feeling the play might have been Ibsen’s Ghosts. “I don’t even remember the time, but one thing I’ll never forget is what the man said when he set foot on the moon: ‘That’s one small step for man, one giant step for mankind.’
“The reason I remember that so clearly is the fact that all actors are total drama queens, and when we heard those words, we all burst into tears.”
Entrepreneur Laurence Eu, 53, entrepreneur recalls that he “watched the delayed telecast at home with my entire family and maids. Being only 10 years old then, I was caught up in the excitement. Even though my memories of the entire episode are somewhat blur now, I can still remember clearly the moment the spacecraft landed on the moon.
“The only other time I’ve ever felt that way was when I caught the recent badminton finals between (Lee) Chong Wei and Lin Dan at the Olympics. You can’t help but go, ‘Wow, wow, wow!’ the entire time. I think everyone from my generation wanted to be an astronaut after that.”
Heng Yick Hiang was just 16 when Armstrong made history. He remembers huddling around a TV set at Port Dickson High School with a throng of classmates.
“It was very exciting; it felt unreal as no one thought these things could happen. When Armstrong stepped down on the moon, and uttered those famous words – Wow! The image on the black and white screen was unclear and there was crackling, but after watching him, every boy wanted to be an astronaut.”
Radio, TV and theatre personality Patrick Teoh says: “Back then, we didn’t have things like Astro, and getting access to a television set wasn’t very easy either. But I recall the landing wasn’t such a big deal for Malaysians in general.
“I was working with Rediffusion then, and I remember that even my programme manager didn’t think it was important enough to be part of the day’s programming. So, I patched the radio telecast from Voice Of America through to our station.”