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Over the moon at new space race

PUBLISHED: 18:14 15 July 2009 | UPDATED: 10:50 23 August 2010

BIG ADVENTURE: Richard Chambers

BIG ADVENTURE: Richard Chambers

MAN S first, momentous steps on the moon 40 years ago were crucial in discovering more about the wider universe, according to a respected astronomer. Chairman of Crayford Manor House Astronomical Society, Richard Chambers, said much subsequent knowledg

MAN'S first, momentous steps on the moon 40 years ago were "crucial" in discovering more about the wider universe, according to a respected astronomer.

Chairman of Crayford Manor House Astronomical Society, Richard Chambers, said much subsequent knowledge gained by scientists and amateurs is due to the moment on July 20, 1969, when astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon's surface at 2.56am GMT. Speaking as the world prepares to mark the 40th anniversary of the moon landings, Mr Chambers said: "The race to the moon created a political will without which advances in the knowledge of space could not have materialised.

"I don't think the Hubble telescope would have come about without the political will, the drive. It is impossible to gauge the full impact of Hubble, and without that impetus in the 1960s we would be decades behind.

"The race to the moon was one of man's biggest adventures."

The society, with members from across north Kent and south-east London, has a telescope at its base in Mayplace Road East named in memory of Percy Wilkins, who died in 1960. He was the last of a generation to use traditional selenography - mapping the moon's surface - using sketches from a telescope.

With his specialist knowledge of the moon, he lectured at the society from 1954, writing many books, including one with Sir Patrick Moore, The Moon: A Complete Description of the Surface of the Moon.

It contained extracts of a 300-inch map of the moon released in 1951, a copy of which exists at the society's headquarters, where courses are run in beginners' and advanced astronomy.

Mr Chambers, who attended the eminent astronomer's lectures in 1957, said: "If Percy Wilkins had been alive to see the moon landings he would have been so excited.

"He was very well known and was invited to view the moon through the best telescopes all over the world."

Society members were at Danson Festival to promote their work and are due to be present at Dartford Festival this Saturday and Sunday.

Many people can still remember where they were in 1969 when images of Apollo 11 were beamed throughout the world.

Co-chairman of Dartford Football Club, Bill Archer, remembers a sense of disbelief among people at the time. He said: "You couldn't really take it in. All the hype was going round about it. Until you read it in the papers and you saw the images and pictures, then it gradually sank in what an amazing achievement it was."

District manager for Gravesham Libraries, Christophe Bull, was 11 when he watched live images of the Apollo 11 landing. He said: "I remember our school did a space project in the build-up to it. We built a rocket ship made of hoops and cardboard.

"I had a friend in Germany who was mad about it. He had pictures all over his bedroom walls.

"At the time I wasn't that affected by it, but later as an adult I realised the full implications of what had happened."

Tony Banfield, 63, chairman of Bromley Civic Society, remembers watching the landings on television at his mother's house in George Lane, Lewisham.

He had mixed feelings about it and said: "My first thought was a strange disappointment that all the mystery had gone. Somehow seeing people walking across the dusty landscape did that.

"On the one hand it was a fantastic achievement but on the other it broke an illusion, the mystery was lost."

Exhibitions of activities stage by Crayford Manor House Astronomical Society are being held at Sidcup library from this Saturday, then Bexleyheath library from Saturday, August 1, for two weeks.

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