Lonely planet;The big picture

9th July 1999 at 01:00
(Photograph) - hirty years ago this month the Americans put a man on the moon. Five hundred million people huddled around their TV sets on 20 July 1969 to watch the epoch-making moment when Neil Armstrong, like a Michelin man in slow motion, emerged from the Apollo 11 module (shown here over the moon's surface) and uttered the immortal words: "This is one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Buzz Aldrin followed him out, looked around and said simply: "Magnificent desolation."

For a long time in the Sixties, the moon was the shining prize in the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. But no sooner had it been reached than it was left behind as rockets flew on, unmanned, to Mars and beyond. The last Apollo mission - number 17 - took off in 1972. Nowadays the only people moonwalking are Michael Jackson impersonators.

Another 10 men have repeated the feat since. But apart from John Glenn, who became a US senator, they are forgotten.

Some have been successful, but the moon seems to have exerted a melancholy influence over others. Neil Armstrong lives on a remote farm in Ohio and refuses to give interviews. Buzz Aldrin became depressed, hit the bottle, got divorced and now writes science fiction books. Two more became born-again Christians, one makes a living painting pictures of the moon's surface while another appeared in an advertisement featuring "famous people that nobody knows".

James Irwin, of Apollo 15, became obsessed with discovering Noah's Ark and led several expeditions to Turkey, but died, in 1991, of a heart attack while out jogging. Witnessing the world so small and far away had altered his perception forever, he said. "Seeing the earth shrink to the size of a marble - and everything you cared about is on that marble - changes a person's mind."

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