July 21: President Kennedy did not live to see it but
his incredible challenge, to put an American on the moon within
ten years, came true. Neil Armstrong stepped down from the Apollo
11 landing module into the lunar dust and declared: "That's one
small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
folk realised that he got the most important words in the history
of travel wrong. Armstrong had probably meant to say "small step
for a man" but this was no time for nit-picking. The Apollo 11
mission was achieved in an age before micro-chips and when computers
were primitive by today's standards. It was a triumph of hard
work and human spirit.
It was also the defining moment that put America firmly ahead
of the Soviet Union in a space race that the Soviets had so often
If the moon was grey, barren and much as anyone had expected,
the mission's stunning photographs of the earth rising over the
lunar horizon had an effect on mankind that may never be fully
measured. Planet earth, in all its blue-green diversity was seen
in a new light. One small step for mankind revealed that mankind's
home was a precious, fertile pinhead in the sterile, infinite
blackness of space.
June 8. General Franco made the latest claim to the British
colony of Gibraltar by closing the land frontier. The aim was
to bring the Rock's economy crashing down and force its British-supporting
citizens to negotiate a take-over by Spain. Two years earlier
the Gibraltarians had voted to stay British.
"What sort of people do they think we are?" demanded a defiant
Chief Minister, Sir Joshua Hassan. Although the death of Franco
and the entry of both Britain and Spain into the EEC made relations
easier, Spain never relinquished its claim to the rock, held by
Britain for 200 years.
June 20. In an announcement that would change the future
for Britain, a drilling company announced that substantial deposits
of high-grade oil lay beneath the bed of the stormy North Sea.
But how to get at the stuff? Conditions were far worse than any
so far tackled by the world's giant oil companies. In the years
ahead, the lure of the oil would conquer anything. Oil rigs the
size of villages would be towed out to the oil fields to drill
for oil and pump the precious liquid ashore. Aberdeen would become
the Houston of the North and Britain would become an oil exporter.
August 15. British troops were deployed on to the streets
of Northern Ireland after a week of furious fighting between the
religion-torn tribes of both Belfast and Londonderry. At first
the Catholics greeted the Brits as liberators who were seen to
be far more even-handed than the despised B-Specials of the Royal
Ulster Constabulary. British ministers insisted that the troops
were there for only a limited period. Thirty years later they
were still there.
In September Belfast awoke to find itself a city divided. The
new "peace wall" went up overnight, erected by Royal Engineers
in a bid to keep the warring Catholics and Protestants apart.
Army top brass insisted it was not a Berlin Wall type of operation
but was only a temporary measure. Traffic curfews and checkpoints
had been introduced to quell the rioting but elsewhere in the
city residents had thrown up hundreds of barricades to protect
April 9. The sleek shape of Concorde took to the skies
above Bristol as test pilot Brian Trubshaw took her up for the
maiden flight from Filton. Trubshaw declared it "a wizard flight."
Others were not so impressed.
An unholy alliance of environmentalists and jealous rivals would
try to keep Concorde out of North America on the grounds of noise
pollution. Concorde never fulfilled the dreams of her Anglo-French
creators who had hoped to sell 400 models. She was beautiful but
expensive and could never compete with the cheap-and-cheerful
service offered by Jumbos and other wide-bodied, subsonic jets.