To: whomever it may concern at
the lab where I left my roll of film
When Buzz and I were descending to the moon aboard the Lunar Module on July 20, 1969, the eyes, ears, hopes and fears of millions of people were upon us.
Would we land safely, they wondered?
Would we encounter hostile alien life-forms?
Once on the moon, would we be able to take off again?
No one, I suspect, wondered if I would get my photographs back from the processing lab in a reasonable time.
Foremost in MY mind during the descent - even more pressing than wondering which one of us would get to eat the Cocoa Pops in our variety breakfast food pack - was whether I had even properly loaded the roll of film in my camera.
They teach you at lot of things at NASA.
They put you on whirling machines to teach you how to avoid becoming too dizzy and throwing up inside your space suit.
They send you underwater for long periods. They say this is to teach you about the effects of weightlessness. In our case though, I suspect it was to prepare us for the possibility that the Eagle would set down in a large body of water in the Sea of Tranquillity.
They teach you how to make 1:100 scale model rockets in zero gravity.
And they subject you to many hours of psychological testing to make sure you can cope with long periods confined in small spaces with astronauts who have not showered and gloat endlessly after winning the contest to decide who has first pick of the breakfast cereal selection.
But one thing they do NOT prepare you for is loading film into your camera in cramped spaces dimly lit by hundreds of tiny flashing lights that probably mean something. Why would they? Inside every space rocket I have ever boarded is a sign that says that taking photographs is prohibited. The last thing the army of boffins at Mission Control needs is a desperate, crackling message from an astronaut: "Oops, we seem to have a problem up here, NASA. We can't work out which way the film is supposed to go in."
"Um, does this look right to you?" I remember asking Buzz as we hovered above the moon's surface and I fumbled with my reflex lens camera. "It's so very hard to see what I am doing. Can't we turn on the internal lights?"
"No, I need to know where I am driving," Buzz said. "Where did you get that damn thing from anyway, Neil?" He always called me Neil but I don't know why.
"I smuggled it on board," I confessed. "I just want to get some snaps while we're here. You won't tell anyone, will you?"
Buzz just shrugged. "Well, I suppose it's too late now, and you ARE the commander of this mission so who would I tell? Why on earth, or moon, you didn't put film in your camera before we left though, I'll never know! Next, you'll be asking me 'When will we be there?' or 'Can you stop somewhere; I need to go to the toilet?'"
"Fair go," I said. "I didn't have time to load the film back on Columbia because we left in such a rush. And I DON'T need to go to the toilet. I am quite sure I can hang on until we get to the moon. All you have to do then is distract the television cameras by jumping around like a kangaroo while I duck around the back the Eagle."
I DID successfully load the film.
And I suspect I took some really lovely snaps - moonscapes, portraits with moonrocks, portraits without moonrocks and a picture of Buzz and I having an arm-wrestle to decide who would have first dibs on the breakky cereal.
But I cannot say that they came out well because I have never seen the pics.
Well, you tell me.
I left the roll at your lab for processing in August 1969 and still haven't got them back.
And you call yourself a 24-hour processing service!
Where are they?
Did they turn out?
Every time I see Buzz, I remind him of the time on the moon I beat him in that arm-wrestle and won the Cocoa Pops.
But he just pretends he cannot remember.
Next time, I want to be able to wave the photographic proof under his nose and say "na-na-nah-nah-na".
Is that too much for a space pioneer - a genuine American hero - to ask?
Puddleduck Hospital for the Criminally Insane,
©June 4, 2001 John Martin. All Rights Reserved
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