50 years after the first moonwalk, we celebrate the Welsh engineers and scientists who helped make it happen, and discuss the legacy with those inspired by the Apollo Missions
The Moon & Us is a two part documentary celebrating 50 years since humans first walked on the moon in July 1969. It was an event that united people all over the world who had access to TV sets to watch humanity stand, for the first time, on an alien world.
The second episode starts as the lunar module Eagle makes its descent onto the moon’s surface. Those vital seconds caused the men in mission control to hold their breath as unexplained alarms sounded and Armstrong took over manual control, with very little fuel left, in order to find a better place to land. The flight director was Gene Kranz, the legendary guy in the waistcoat. Presenter Elin Rhys, a life-long lover of space travel history, sat with him in Houston to talk about the landing and the challenges he faced as the man in control that day. The plan was that Armstrong and Aldrin would rest after landing before exiting the lunar module for a spacewalk. But Armstrong had other plans – and sleep wasn’t one of them. So Gene Kranz’s shift was extended, and the historical moon walk took place. On the other side of the world a Welshman from Cockett in Swansea was also holding his breath. His name was Edward ‘Taffy’ Bowen. Already a war hero after he designed air-borne radar enabling us to win the Battle of Britain in World War 2, he transferred his skills into radio astronomy and built an iconic radio telescope in Parkes, Australia. Telescopes in the northern hemisphere would have missed the moon walk, and Parkes telescope, despite a massive storm, ensured we all got to see and hear the moon landing and Armstrong’s first words.
But after that small step – where did the giant leap take us? We talk to Welsh scientists, and NASA personnel about the next steps. One of the key drivers post Apollo was Welsh American, George Abbey, his mother from Laugharne. George chose all future astronauts and was key to so many of NASA’s future missions; Apollo- Soyuz, Shuttle, Skylab, and ISS. One astronaut chosen was Dr Dafydd Rhys Williams, a medical expert and astronaut on 2 shuttle missions. His father was born and raised in Bargoed in the Rhymney Valley. He and George appreciate the influence of their Welsh parents. Dafydd takes Elin to the training centre at Houston’s Johnson Space Centre and gets permission to enter the shuttle training mock up. Welsh scientists back home reveal how they were inspired by the Apollo missions. George Abbey, Gene Kranz and Glyn Lunney, another legendary flight director, are now in their late eighties, but have clear ideas about what the future holds for the young people who aspire to be the next generation of astronauts. During the two episodes Elin discovered the genius Welsh brains that helped secure Apollo’s success. The engineer from Anglesey, Tecwyn Roberts, the moon mapper from Penarth, Barbara Middlehurst, the radio physicist Edward Taffy Bowen from Cockett, all part of the history of the Moon and Us.