Jul 22, 2019

Statements on Indulgence – First Moon Landing: 50th Anniversary – Monday, 22 July 2019

Mr ALBANESE (GrayndlerLeader of the Opposition) (14:05): I join with the Prime Minister in commemorating the 50th anniversary of this quite remarkable event. The voyage to the moon, and that one small step, began with a visionary president dedicating himself and his nation to doing the hard things. John F. Kennedy of course didn’t live to see this dream made real, but, knowing the United States as he did, he would have had every confidence that the hard things would indeed be done.

Astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins did anything but choose the easy path. They let themselves be strapped into a tiny capsule on top of what, if all went according to plan, amounted to a prolonged explosion that would hurl them free of our planet’s atmosphere and then its gravity. To say that this required courage is quite an understatement. The technology had advanced in the seven years since John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth, went to the launch pad with this thought:

I felt about as good as anybody would, sitting in a capsule on top of a rocket that were both built by the lowest bidder.

But the risks were, indeed, huge. Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins knew them all, but off they went. They were proud Americans, carrying the stars and stripes to another world, but they went for all of humanity. They were the human race reaching out, the human race following our endless hunger to explore, to discover, to know.

It seems somehow fitting that Armstrong and Aldrin landed the Eagle with only 30 seconds of fuel to spare. To think how disconcerting it feels when the fuel warning light comes on in your car when you’re still on the highway might give you some perspective on that! Eventually, Armstrong’s words came back across the void:

That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

Those words and that footage first touched down in Australia, landing on a dish at Honeysuckle Creek, just up the road from here. Tidbinbilla and Parkes played crucial roles as well. Here on the opposite side of the world to Houston, Australia was perfectly placed to be the eyes and ears for America and ultimately the world. Australia certainly played our part, and we are proud of it—and rightly so. I note that the Deputy Prime Minister’s particularly proud of the role his electorate played—as he should be.

Right across Australia that day 50 years ago, people crowded around black-and-white televisions in living rooms, schools and shops. I remember—it’s probably my first memory of watching anything on TV—being with the nuns at St Joseph’s, Camperdown. Obviously we didn’t have a TV in the school. We were in the nunnery, next to the school, watching it play out live. As a nation, we held our breath—first as they landed and then as we wondered whether they’d successfully take off and get home. As Armstrong uttered one of the most famous sentences in history, one person who did not hear it was Collins. While planet earth heard about that giant leap, Collins was alone in the orbiter, passing through the shadow on the far side of the moon, cut off from all communications, drinking coffee, in the most perfect peace.

As Collins self-caffeinated among the stars and Armstrong and Aldrin lay their boots on untrodden dust, they knew they’d been put there by the work of 400,000 people: engineers, scientists, mathematicians, doctors, cooks, cleaners, builders—you name it—brought together by a government of courage and vision and a nation united in the fulfilment of a vision, the realisation of a dream they’d all come to share. Up there, surrounded by what Aldrin later described as ‘magnificent desolation’, they all lifted their gaze above the eerily small lunar horizon and looked back at what mattered most—planet earth, a blaze of colour in the black sky, beautiful, fragile and the heart of all we are. Fifty years ago, three of America’s finest made that planet feel bigger for all of us. It was a time of wonder and excitement. What had once seemed impossible had been achieved. The last word should go to the first man. Many years later, Neil Armstrong reviewed the moon as a destination and he said this: ‘It’s an interesting place to be. I recommend it.’