Leeds & West Yorkshire

Apollo 11: Dewsbury man saw 'astonishing' Moon launch

John Blackburn with some of his memorabilia from the Apollo 11 launch
Image caption John Blackburn, from Dewsbury, was 29 when he watched the Apollo 11 launch in the USA

A man who travelled to the US to see the launch of the first manned flight to the moon has said it was a privilege to witness the "mind-boggling" feat.

John Blackburn, a lifelong space fan, said he saw a "splash of flame" under the Apollo 11 rocket on ignition.

He said he could vividly remember the moment it rose into the sky - and still has a suitcase full of memorabilia.

The build-up to the 50th anniversary of the mission this week had brought memories flooding back, he said.

Mr Blackburn, from Dewsbury, who was 29 at the time, said he thought the Apollo 11 project was "absolutely astonishing".

"It was mind-boggling to think that you could send a man up to the moon and recover him safely back to earth. As this was the first manned moon-shot, it was a once in a lifetime happening."

Image caption John Blackburn's memorabilia includes copies of the first photographs taken on the moon

Mr Blackburn's flights and accommodation cost £259 and the whole trip cost about six months' wages at the time.

His visit included four days in Houston and a guided tour of the mission control - with banks of computers up to 100 yards long and two storeys high - and a visit to the launch site, at Cape Canaveral in Florida, the day after the launch.

His tour group saw the empty launch pad and tower and the enormous vehicle assembly building where Nasa workers were already working on the next mission.

When Apollo 11 took off - on 16 July 1969 - he was six miles away from blast off, with a view across the plain.

Image copyright BBC/ John Blackburn
Image caption Mr Blackburn visited the launch pad itself the day after the Cape Canaveral blast off

"The roar of the launch was something you'd never experienced before," he said.

It was a clear morning and Mr Blackburn listened to the countdown on the radio and saw the rocket igniting, rising into the sky and separating.

The "splash of flame" that appeared under the rocket was "something to behold", he remembered.

Mr Blackburn stayed in the US for long enough to watch the moon landings, the return take off from the moon, and the rocket splash down back on Earth live on television on 24 July.

Image copyright BBC/ John Blackburn
Image caption Newspaper cuttings and photos have been carefully preserved in the suitcase he took with him to America

The moon landing itself on 20 July was "absolutely magical", John added.

Fifty years on, he still has a suitcase full of carefully preserved newspapers and photographs.

He also has the original press briefing notes handed out to journalists - given to him by American reporters who were astonished to meet a group of British tourists who had made the trip especially to see the launch.

With no family to leave the memorabilia to, he said he would like to sell it to someone who shares his interest in space exploration.

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