50 years on – a perspective on the moon landing: An epic journey of biblical proportion, but did it really happen?

Significant facts, dates, and events

 

July 20, 1969, was the date of the first moon landing. It came at a pivotal time in Western history, amid significant cultural shifts, political assassinations, anti-government and anti-war protests.

 

At the same time in Melbourne, VFL football also reached some dizzying heights, with record crowds and record scores.

 

January 27, 1967, was the date of the tragic Apollo 1 launchpad fire, which killed all three astronauts: Grissom, White, and Chaffee. After the setback, Apollo 7 astronauts finally launched for a low earth orbit test flight from Cape Kennedy, October 11, 1968.

 

In the 20 months between those two dates, two VFL clubs, Richmond and Carlton, had huge Premierships seasons; the first for Richmond in 24 years, and the first for Carlton in 21 years. They then shared a period of dominance, with Carlton and Richmond facing each other in the 1969 Grand Final, the second highest attended match ever, 119,165. They subsequently played off in the 1972 Grand Final, with a record combined score for any VFL match to date, a stellar 327 points, and then again in 1973. This era defined a deep rivalry between the two clubs, which is still felt today.

 

This era, 1968-1972, was the golden age of space exploration. The Apollo missions encompassed nine epic journeys, sending twenty-four brave men to the far side of the moon. These twenty-four are the only privileged people to have seen that side of the moon other than from photographs. Twelve of these walked on the moon’s surface. The two alliterations, Armstrong and Aldrin, being the first to land a space craft on another celestial body, and to step onto the moon’s dust.

 

Charles M Duke Jr was the youngest man to walk on the moon. His was the voice of Mission Control in Houston on that famous day in 1969, remembered for acknowledging that the Eagle had landed at Tranquility Base the moment after Armstrong touched down. He once came to Australia on a speaking tour, and I can claim the honour of having shaken his hand.

 

Arriving in the ‘New world’

 

My father was born less than one year after Charlie Duke. Dad had never seen the far side of the earth (the Australian side) when he stepped off the ship arriving from South Africa at Station Pier in April 1969. At 32 years old, he had never seen or even imagined the game of Australian Rules football.

 

Our family legend had it that he stepped off the boat Thursday, found a job Friday, and was terrace side watching VFL football, Geelong versus Carlton, on Saturday. He liked it so much, he left his pregnant wife at home to look after us kids, and went back on Sunday to watch Williamstown play in the VFA.

 

The other part of the family legend is that he was told he was supposed to barrack for Geelong. However, having come from South Africa, a nation mired in racial tension, when Dad saw the darker skinned Syd Jackson run out in Carlton colours, his allegiance was sealed. We became Navy Blues fans, and I grew up wearing a Carlton number 25 jersey.

 

True story, or not?

 

However, could this story be true? That my Dad saw his first VFL game, and decided which team to give his devotion, on his second full day in the country? It’s a neat story. For sure, I’ve often repeated this, even in my Almanac profile. But how much mayonnaise was added to make the story more appealing? It’s a long way from Melbourne to Geelong when you’re still finding your bearings in a new country, still securing a roof over your head and a bed to sleep in. On reflection, could the story fit the facts?

 

Recently I got together with family members, and the children of my Dad’s workmate who had taken him to the match at Geelong. We used the Internet (what else?) to cross check the dates of that 1969 game with some shipping information of steamer arrivals coming from Fremantle to Port Melbourne.

 

Our ship arrived Thursday, April 10, 1969. But the Geelong v Carlton match he attended at Kardinia Park was Saturday, May 10, 1969, precisely one month after stepping off the ship. My Dad now admits that a gap of one month before making the trek down the Geelong Road sounds more realistic, and more likely what actually happened.

 

Questioning the veracity of the bigger story, the moon landings

 

So if that story wasn’t quite accurate, what of the moon landings themselves? In 1969, I was so young that I’ve never had any recollection of any of it. As new immigrants to Australia, it was likely that we didn’t yet own a TV. As the years advanced, conspiracy theorists have questioned whether these moon expeditions really happened. These people would have to deny mountains of first hand testimony from the thousands who were working to assist the Apollo missions. So did they really happen?

 

In the acclaimed 2007 documentary In the Shadow of the Moon, most of the remaining Apollo astronauts were once again asked to recount their adventures, though three of the famous Twelve who had walked on the moon (Conrad, Shepherd, and Irwin) were already deceased. Then aged in their seventies, these men were brilliantly lucid, as their stories had matured like fine wine in countless retelling. The film’s makers were keen to capture, succinctly and accurately, their amazing story for all posterity, before they would go the way of their three colleagues.

 

At the close of the film, each astronaut is asked how they respond if asked whether the voyages to the moon were hoaxes. Charlie Duke responded, “If we wanted to fake it, why would we fake it nine times?” I found this simple retort forceful and compelling.

 

Ordinary people giving reliable testimony

 

Other than the actual Twelve who walked on the moon, there are the many more ordinary people who gave their efforts in support roles. Some of these have also had movies made after them, such as: The Dish (2000), which dramatized the involvement of technicians at the radio telescope at Parkes, NSW, responsible for telemetry tracking and receiving TV signals for Apollo 11; and Hidden Figures (2016), which retold the story of the group of coloured women mathematicians, in particular Katherine Johnson, who worked for NASA for 35 years, responsible for calculations of orbital mechanics and flight trajectories, critical to the success of NASA’s early missions.

 

Could these people, and the thousands of others, all be duped or be part of a grand conspiracy? For sure, certain elements of these movies would be changed slightly to add dramatic effect, as that is the nature of this genre of retelling history. But these films communicate historic facts, which can and will be thoroughly checked, for many of these people are still alive to give testimony and verification.

 

So I hope to have begun to demonstrate here how 50 years is not long enough for fanciful legends to grow. But what will future generations believe about this amazing period of history, once all those now living have passed on? With YouTube increasingly contriving to support new conspiracies, will the written records, films and other data recordings be enough for these remarkable achievements to be fully honoured?

 

Belief and credulity

 

As a Carlton fan, with our team currently performing so miserably, I have trouble believing they will ever again kick more than 100 points in a game. So, can I believe that Carlton really did break Richmond’s 38-year-old League high scoring record, by kicking 210 points on April 12, 1969? Of the 30 goals Carlton kicked, Jackson didn’t get any, but Jesaulenko kicked a remarkable 6 goals 12 behinds. That was 50 years ago, and in fact, this would have been the game that Dad would have seen if he watched Carlton play two days after setting foot in the country. He wasn’t there, but 25,894 others were present to witness an extraordinary match, some of whom will still be alive today to testify to it.

 

A few weeks later, May 26, 1969, on their return to Earth in Apollo 10’s oddly named, Charlie Brown spacecraft, Stafford, Young, and Cernan, attained the highest speed ever by a crewed vehicle, 39, 897 km/h. A record which stands today. This happened 50 years ago. Of the three, only Thomas Stafford is still alive to help verify the account. So do we believe this happened?

 

It feels pretty mundane today to travel at 40 km/h, though no one journeyed anywhere at that speed a few hundred years ago.  We often now experience travelling at 400 km/h (and much more) with jet air travel, something barely imaginable only one hundred years ago. But travelling at 4,000 km/h is harder for us to imagine today. Yet these three men travelled in a vehicle together at nearly 40,000 km/h, and lived to calmly chat about it the next day. Accepting such unfathomable statistics comes from first grasping a correct perspective, or understanding the context of the facts, though we’re as likely to allow our stubborn prejudices to blind us from the facts.

 

In the documentary, Charlie Duke said his own father, Charles Sr, had trouble comprehending that he had travelled to the moon. It just was not something that people of that generation could easily get their head around. Yet his son, Charles III, who was about seven years old at the time, was just the opposite. The boy had seen the rockets up close, and thought, my Dad’s going to the moon. What’s the big deal?

 

Therefore, I contend that believing any story or historical account, however fanciful, or possibly miraculous, is largely a matter of your perspective, and whether you accept the credibility of the testimony, either given by a living person, or in a written account or other recording.

 

What of the miracles in the Bible?

 

Many find it difficult to accept many of the accounts from the Bible, for example, the miraculous healings. From my perspective, I do not. (I do not have this difficulty.) For, just a few months after Gene Cernan became the last person to leave the Moon’s surface in 1973, my nine-year-old sister was found to have a case of Osteomyelitis. This was an unusual infection inside a leg bone. It was considered so serious that they would need to remove that portion of bone, otherwise infection would spread to the whole body, which could be fatal. An emergency operation was scheduled that week at the Royal Children’s Hospital. However, this would involve removing a section of bone that would never grow back. So the operation, successful or not, would have a lasting impact on a little girl.

 

The evening before the operation, the church prayed for her healing. The next morning, the doctors performed their pre-operation checks. However, they couldn’t find anything wrong with my sister. So they just sent her home, 100% well. My sister is still around, and can tell you the story herself. There’s probably some records somewhere in the archives of the hospital, if anyone wanted to dig them up, but who would? The impact this event had on our family is hard to measure. But nothing I read in the Bible is any different in quality to what our family experienced, only differing perhaps by quantity or degree.

 

Apart from the healings, the central miracle of Christianity is the resurrection of Christ. It was this event that inspired the records of the New Testament. Similar to what’s said above regarding the Apollo missions, some accounts were written decades after the event, presumably when it was thought that some of the main witnesses were starting to age and die. Yet scholars are in general agreement that the bulk of the accounts were written less than 50 years after the events they describe. And as noted earlier, 50 years is not enough time for fanciful legends to grow. Many of those who are mentioned in the written records were still around to verify the facts.

 

St Paul recorded in one of his letters that, after his resurrection, Jesus appeared to 500 of his followers on one occasion, “most of whom are still alive.” In St Luke’s writing, he showed that Jesus’ followers were prepared to throw back a challenge at anyone willing to dispute the facts of the matter, with the retort, “I am sure these events are all familiar to him, for they were not done in a corner!”

 

Having met in person the famous moon walker, Charlie Duke, and subsequently the Carlton great, Syd Jackson, I do not have trouble accepting their testimonies. Do we accept the testimony of the Twelve who walked on the moon, as well as the Twelve Apostles who walked with Jesus? Both speak of game changing, perspective altering events. But both ultimately rely for their credibility on writings and other data recordings, confirmed by firsthand accounts of eyewitnesses. I cannot see any reason why anyone should accept one series of extraordinary events as true and historical without accepting the other.

 

 

Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.

 

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About Michael Viljoen

Michael immigrated to Australia as a boy in the late '60s. His dad, having never seen a game of Australian Rules previously, stepped off the boat Thursday, found a job Friday, and Saturday was terrace side watching the VFL, Geelong v Carlton.* He liked it so much he went back to the VFA on Sunday, Williamstown v Camberwell. (*revision required)

Comments

  1. Interesting Michael. Good seeing some one else writing about these events. Where else apart from the Almanac ?

    I watched a documentary on the weekend, talking about/demolishing those who deny the moon landing. The information in your article re Apollo 11 reiterates it.

    As the great Soviet leader V I Lenin said: facts are stubborn things.

    Glen!

  2. Wonderful article Michael. Love how you blended the personal and the historical.
    “A man who believes in nothing will believe anything”. GK Chesterton.
    While by no means a scholar I had a period of intense reading about the historical underpinnings of the Gospels and Jesus’ life. No serious person can doubt his historical authenticity, and the genius and generousity of his teachings. It is fair to debate his divinity – inspired teacher or son of god?? And how much the gospel writers embellished the story to gain converts.
    The writer that sticks with me is Thomas Cahill a Catholic and a serious historian who has a great gift of narrative story telling and separating out the important and interesting. I recommend to anyone with a general interest in the history of western civilisation and spiritual teaching. http://thomascahill.com/books/desire-of-the-everlasting-hills-tr. http://thomascahill.com/books/the-gifts-of-the-jews-tr
    Much more nuanced and interesting than the tiresome debates between rigid atheists and unquestioning fundamentalists. What sticks with me is how Cahill illustrated the overwhelming brutality and cruelty of the world before Jesus and in that context it was earth shattering to be the first to say “do unto others as you would have them do to you”. The foundations of kindness and forgiveness.

  3. Another interesting read Peter is ASIMOV’S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE. It comes in 2 volumes but is now way out of print so it’s difficult to get. The late Dr Isaac Asimov was an excellent writer (fact and fiction) and often referred to as “The Great Explainer”

  4. Love it Michael. I have met the same double as you: Charlie Duke and Syd Jackson. Both remarkable men in their own right. Charlie Duke signed his book for me. On the inside cover he wrote:

    To Damian. Ad Astra. Charlie.

    I will treasure it. Charlie, as you would know, is a man of extraordinary faith. This wasn’t inspired by visiting the moon, but it was inspired by the realisation that he was (like all of us) a flawed character looking for answers. He failed as a husband and father and went searching for answers. He believes he’s found them. I envy that.

    I love the discussions about faith and God and religion. We don’t know the answer and that’s what makes it so fascinating. We’re all searching for something.

    This is one of my favourite quotes on the subject:

    “How silly were the idolaters of old, who knelt before the clumsy wooden figurines of their own making! We are wiser now. We kneel before mirrors.”

  5. Excellent Michael. I love how you have woven such disparate subjects into the one piece. Very thought provoking.

  6. george smith says

    it is now 49 years since Collingwood’s blackest day, grand final 1970. it is also fifty years since the 1969 finals series, where Carlton and Richmond established their superiority over Collingwood, with final defeats even though our mob finished first. It was a foretelling of the horrors of the following year.

    As a teenager, I went on a bus tour in September to Lightning Ridge, and went past the Parkes radio telescope on the ride home. It wasn’t a ludicrous blob in the middle of nowhere then, but a huge monument to the power of the future, for kids dazzled by satellites and the moon landing. Satellites gave us the moon landings, and they also gave us footy matches beamed direct from Melbourne and FA Cup matches and live cricket from England.

  7. Paul Spinks says

    A very enjoyable story of juxtapositions, Michael.

    I have it on good authority the conspiracy theories were faked.

    There was another doco I saw once: a send up. I think it was called Dark Side of the Moon.

    No involvement by the Floyd.

  8. Michael Viljoen says

    Thanks, Peter, and others for the kind words.

    I’ll look forward to getting hold of some Thomas Cahill.

  9. Excellent stuff, Michael.

    A most enjoyable and stimulating read. Thanks.

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