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Buzz Aldrin on Moon with reflection in helmet.

Buzz Aldrin on Moon with reflection in helmet.

Moon landing in St Leonards

It is the 50th anniversary of the first moon landings. So it is not surprising that there has been wall-to-wall radio and television coverage of the event. Even St Leonards is marking the occasion. HOT’s Lauris Morgan-Griffiths wandered, earthbound, down the King’s Road to see St Leonards’ own celebration of the first American space exploration in a surprising exhibition.

And it is surprising – even if you saw film footage and sound track at the time. In my memory, distorted, indistinct figures walked jerkily through a drift of screen snow. Around the gallery are stills of many of the extraordinary space ventures in a collection of original photographs of the Apollo XI astronauts on the Moon, other astronauts and events.

Alastair Fairley and the FASE archive

Alastair Fairley and the FASE archive

The exhibition is curated by Alastair Fairley, whose late father, Peter Fairley, led ITN’s coverage of the lunar landings and assembled this extraordinary collection of space memorabilia.

Alastair had no idea that it existed until after Peter Fairley’s death, when his stepmother entrusted him with some boxes that had been stored for years in the attic. Thinking they were family memorabilia he was amazed when he discovered literally hundreds, if not thousands, of photographs of the American space exploration that now make up the Fairley Archive of Space Exploration (FASE).

For various reasons, previous major anniversaries have had pretty much a summary mention. Fifty years means a couple of generations have grown up since that time; those born in the early 80s are now in their thirties, millennials teenagers. Consequently many are unaware of those momentous events which now, to a generation brought up with computer graphics and space film dramas, look a bit like toy town.

Toy action men or for real?

A percentage of conspiracy theorists around the world believe the landings were faked. From today’s perspective when you see the seven men from Mercury 7 – Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom, Gordon Cooper, Wally Schirra, Deke Slayton, John Glenn, Scott Carpenter – in their silver space suits you can understand why. They look like toy action men. Unquestionably courageous but those space suits look something of a joke, not like men ready to go where no man has gone before.

Were the suits fit for purpose? No one could know what would happen. The Apollo suits apparently cost around £79,000 each and were custom-made out of latex by Playtex lingerie seamstresses. In spite of what looks like low technology, those suits took the men there and delivered them back. Safely.

When I saw the image of the solitary figure of Edward H White II out in space alone during the Gemini IV mission on 3 June 1965, my stomach gave a lurch. It is a man released from the space capsule out alone – for 23 minutes – wearing an emergency oxygen tank, only secured to the spacecraft by a fragile-looking umbilical cord. I am sure the moon walk was scary too but at least there were two of them on their two-hour foray, time  to perform a kangeroo jump, collect moon dust, erect the American flag, and for Neil Armstrong to make one of the most famous, enduring quotes of all time: “One small step for man, one great leap for mankind.”

Close up of astronaut's foot and print

Close up of astronaut’s foot and print

Footprints on the moon

One thing people do remember is Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepping onto the moon. The photographs of Armstrong and Aldrin’s footprints in the moon are a poignant imprint of their presence there – and evidence that they were there. And if nothing has fallen on them or rifled them, those footprints could still exist – as there is no wind on the moon.

If the whole venture was daunting enough, taking photographs was also something of a gamble. Would the camera work? Would they come back to earth with any images? Miraculously it did work the photographs are clear – and being printed non digital prints, they have warmth and depth to them. And this is the evidence.

Seeing these images made me feel humble. It is still an amazing feat fifty years later.

It is also interesting to see Nichola Bruce’s prize-winning film Moonbug. Her film documents photographer Steve Pyke’s encounters with the surviving Apollo astronauts. Seeing and hearing the astronauts years later being so modest and unpretentious is awe inspiring. Pyke photographed the men in black and white; in the lighting and shadows on the faces there is an echo of the craggy surface of the moon.

Entry to all events is £5 and includes a complimentary drink Thursday 25 July, 6.30pm: illustrated talk about the exhibition, archive and NASA by Alastair Fairley; Saturday 27 July, 6pm: screening of Moonbug, followed by Q&A with director Nichola Bruce.

Lunar 50 is at A Wave of Dreams Arts Lab, 48 Kings Rd, St Leonards-on-Sea TN37 6DY until 30 July. The gallery is open Thursday–Sunday, 12–4pm. 



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Posted 15:31 Tuesday, Jul 23, 2019 In: Photography

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