Library@Kendriya Vidyalaya Pattom

Where Minds meet and Ideas pop up !

The real giant leap for mankind

Forty years ago, Adrian Berry was in Houston reporting on the Moon landing for The Daily Telegraph. Here, he recalls the excitement of the moment – and how Apollo 11 would change our lives.

By Adrian Berry
Published: 5:35PM BST 19 Jul 2009



I was sitting in a press room the size of a football field at Nasa headquarters in Houston, Texas, watching a grainy black and white television screen that would show Neil Armstrong climbing down a ladder to step on to the Moon. The spaceship Eagle had landed, with its three huge legs standing securely on the lunar surface, but apart from that absolutely nothing was happening.

All we could see on the screen was the empty, rugged lunar landscape in the Sea of Tranquillity – the Moon has some picturesque place names – with a horizon only half as distant as a horizon on Earth. For the 400 or so journalists in the room this was just a story. A big and wonderful story, it is true, but still just a story. No one present, as far as I know, had any idea that what was about to happen would change human society, creating an utterly different world. Had we read the technical parts of the voluminous press releases with which we had been issued we might have understood better than we did.

In the room, the excitement was terrific. But there was also great frustration. What were the astronauts doing? Why did they not emerge? Back in London, it was the early hours of the morning and deadlines were looming. People were getting frantic.

Anthony Michaelis, my Telegraph colleague, bit through his cigar, scattering ash and sparks all over our table. Somebody got up to use the bathroom, blocking our view of one of the television screens scattered around the room, all showing the same grainy picture. He was greeted with a howl of fury. “Sit down!” “Do you think we’re here just to see your ——- head!” The offender hurriedly returned to his seat.

A worried German reporter tapped me on the shoulder. “My editor is asking: how high above the Moon is the mother ship?” The mother ship, or “command module”, carrying astronaut Michael Collins, was in an orbit about 60 miles above the lunar surface. I told the German this, but it only made him unhappy. “About 60,” he said gloomily. “That’s no good. A German editor always wants orbits correct to at least two decimal places.”

At last, the picture changed. The door of Eagle had opened. A human foot, then a leg appeared on top of the ladder. It was Armstrong. Very slowly, he started to climb down backwards. The excitement in the press room was at fever pitch. Scarcely anyone breathed. Nobody had a clue what would happen. We were witnessing something unique in history. People had existed for more than 100,000 years; now for the first time one of us was walking on another world.

Someone fancifully suggested the claw of some alien monster was going to seize Armstrong. What actually happened may have lacked the drama of a science-fiction novel, yet it was in many ways just as exciting. Armstrong, his colleague Buzz Aldrin, and the 10 who followed them to the Moon on later missions, found many great treasures on the surface.

Priceless substances were present, forged in the depths of time – ilmenite, a rock with easily extractable oxygen for future Moon colonies; helium-3, rare on Earth but plentiful in the lunar dust, which could drive future spaceships and power nuclear power stations; and other valuable materials that can be used both to build lunar bases and improve life on Earth. Those are for the future.

For the present, however, the greatest treasure was not on the Moon at all but inside the spacecraft that flew there: the computers. In the minutes before landing, Eagle very nearly crashed into a lunar boulder. Its navigation system had failed because it was overloaded with data. I vividly remember someone, either at Mission Control or on television, crying out: “The computer’s in a dither!” This statement, which would not raise an eyebrow today, caused astonishment at the time. Which computer was in a dither?

Had we bothered to read those technical press releases, we would have known that Eagle was carrying its own on-board computer. It had to. The Moon is a quarter of a million miles away and it takes a radio signal two and a half seconds to get to Earth and back. For astronauts hurtling round the Moon at 20 feet per second, that was too long to rely on Houston for life-and-death calculations about height and speed.

The computer on board Eagle was one of the smallest ever made so it could fit into a ship whose living quarters were barely the size of a telephone booth. It had less than a thousandth of the processing power of a small electronic toy of today. But it was no mere calculator. It was a fully-fledged, programmable computer. It was the shape of things to come.

Until that moment, few had imagined that a computer could be so small. The earliest machines had been vast. In 1944, John von Neumann built a computer at Princeton called Eniac (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer) to calculate missile trajectories. As one observer said: “It was worse than big, it was colossal, a veritable dinosaur of tubes and wiring. It had more than 100,000 parts, including 18,000 vacuum tubes, 1,500 relays, 70,000 resistors, 10,000 capacitors and 6,000 toggle switches. Every time it was turned on the lights dimmed all over town.”

This seemed to be the trend into the Sixties. Isaac Asimov, the sci-fi novelist, envisaged a future computer called Multivac, operated by vacuum tubes, that would be as big as a small country. Computers of the day filled entire rooms and were getting larger. Yet on board Eagle was an alternative future.

Within eight years of the first Moon landing, the earliest home computers began to appear. They were primitive machines that worked with tape cassettes and took 20 minutes to load a program or save data. As they started to arrive in offices, they provoked derision and contempt from computer-department staff who, like high priests, tended the huge devices of the pre-Moon era. “They’re just silly toys,” one such important person told me.

Their contempt soon turned to anger, and then to wonderment, as the realisation dawned that these silly toys could actually talk to each other, helped by the proliferation of software and the rapid increase of their speed, memory and storage capacity. The impetus to progress was provided once again by the Cold War – just as it had for the Moon mission, which was inspired by President Kennedy’s determination to compete with Soviet rocketry.

This time, the Pentagon was less concerned with the space race than it was about the Soviets creating a “nuclear pulse explosion” – a hydrogen bomb high over the United States that might, without killing anyone, fry every electronic device (the plot of the 1995 James Bond film GoldenEye.) Senior commanders realised that they would need to preserve their communication system in the event of war; yet at the time, all messages went through a central hub. If that was destroyed, military activity would be paralysed. The answer was to let messages travel by countless routes. This led to the invention of the internet by Vinton Cerf and Bob Kahn, followed by Sir Tim Berners-Lee and the world wide web.

Today, almost everyone uses a computer and the internet. Back in 1942, Thomas J Watson, the head of IBM, predicted a world market for just five computers, yet there are now believed to be more than a billion of them – and plans even exist for an interplanetary internet, to link Earth with all the spacecraft we have launched. Earth’s nervous system will expand outwards across the solar system and beyond.

Somewhere, perhaps, there is a parallel universe in which we didn’t land on the Moon and where there was never any need to miniaturise computers. If so, it would be a much poorer world and a far less desirable place to live.

True, man did not go to the Moon to invent the internet. But had Neil Armstrong not made his giant leap for mankind 40 years ago tonight, the communications revolution spawned by the Apollo 11 mission would not have come until much later. Who knows, it might never have happened at all.



Filed under: Article of the Week, , ,

One Response

  1. thanks for great posting 😉


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

कृपया हिंदी में पढ़ें

Live updates

Library@KV Pattom


Welcome to the official Library blog of Kendriya Vidyalaya Pattom, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India, launched in September 2007.

6 Million Hits and counting..

Thank you all for making this blog a great success.

You are the visitor, No

  • 6,561,637 hits

Upcoming Events

No upcoming events

Visit your Library

Browse Books and Periodicals. Read Newspapers. Pick a New Book from the ‘New Arrivals’ rack. Search the Internet and the OPAC. Refer for assignments and projects. Suggest a book. Ask a question.Write your comments. And more…Visit the Library Today itself. You are most welcome.

KVS Innovation and Experimentation Award 2011 & 2016

"Library Junction" and "Face a Book Challenge" have won the KVS Innovation and Experimentation Award in 2011 and 2016 respectively.

All India Competition on Innovative Practices and Experiments in Education for Schools and Teacher Education Institutions 2010-’11

'Library Junction' won the "All India Competition on Innovative Practices and Experiments in Education for Schools and Teacher Education Institutions 2010-'11" conducted by NCERT.

Website of the Week

Telephone Reference

+91 9447699724 (Librarian)

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 5,845 other followers

Ask your Librarian

Subscribe SMS updates

Send: ON Library_KVPattom to 9870807070


RSS This day in History

  • Pompey defeated by Julius Caesar at the Battle of Pharsalus: 9 August 48 - This Day in History
    During the Roman Civil War of 49–45 , Julius Caesar's troops on this day in 48 decisively defeated the army of Pompey at the Battle of Pharsalus, causing Pompey to flee to Egypt, where he was subsequently murdered.More Events on this day:1945: The second atomic bomb dropped on Japan by the United States in World War II struck the city of Nagasaki.1 […]
  • Amedeo Avogadro: Biography of the Day
    Amedeo AvogadroBorn this day in 1776, Amedeo Avogadro of Italy showed that, under controlled conditions of temperature and pressure, equal volumes of gases contain an equal number of molecules—what became known as Avogadro's law.
  • Concise Encyclopedia Book and CD-ROM: Special Price from The Britannica Store
    For RSS subscribers The Britannica Store presents a special 20% discount on the Concise Encyclopedia and free CD-ROM. This thoroughly revised and expanded edition of Britannica's most popular publication worldwide is a one-volume encyclopedia containing 28,000 articles accompanied by colorful photographs, diagrams, maps, and flags. The Britannica Concis […]

Library Bookmark

InfoLit India: Information Literacy Project for Young Learners

<!– Global site tag (gtag.js) – Google Analytics –>

window.dataLayer = window.dataLayer || [];
function gtag(){dataLayer.push(arguments);}
gtag(‘js’, new Date());

gtag(‘config’, ‘UA-110661763-1’);

<!– Global site tag (gtag.js) – Google Analytics –>

window.dataLayer = window.dataLayer || [];
function gtag(){dataLayer.push(arguments);}
gtag(‘js’, new Date());

gtag(‘config’, ‘UA-11842201-1’);




Real time News on Kendriya Vidyalayas on the web

Little Open Library (LOLib)

Tools for Every Teacher (TET)

KV Pattom in Media

FaB Best Performers 2017-’18

Meera Nair & Kalyani Santhosh

Face a Book Challenge

e-reading hub @ Your Library

Follow Us on Twitter

Learn anything freely with Khan Academy Library of Content

A free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere.

Interactive challenges, assessments, and videos, on any topic of your interest.

Child Line (1098)

CHILDLINE 1098 service is a 24 hour free emergency phone outreach service for children in need of care and protection.

CBSE Toll Free Tele/Online Helpline

Students can call 1800 11 8004 from any part of the country. The operators will answer general queries and also connect them to the counselors for psychological counseling. The helpline will be operational from 08 a.m to 10 p.m. On-line counseling on:

Population Stabilization in India Toll Free Helpline

Dial 1800-11-6555 for expert advice on reproductive, maternal and child health; adolescent and sexual health; and family planning.

Kendriya Vidyalaya (Shift-I)
Thiruvananthapuram-695 004
Kerala India

Mail: librarykvpattom at

%d bloggers like this: