The Artemis 1 mission successfully launched from the Kennedy Space Center at 6:47am GMT (1:47am EST) on Wednesday 16th November, marking NASA’s renewed mission to explore the lunar environment and deep space possibilities. The mission will extensively test the Space Launch System and the Orion module, which will travel out into deep space at a distance of approximately 65,000 miles beyond the moon before returning to Earth and splashing down in the Pacific Ocean on December 11th 2022. Although this flight is unmanned, it heralds a renewed drive for space exploration.
If we cast our minds back some 53 years, we can recall another feat of trailblazing space travel. This momentous event occurred on July 20th 1969. Three men – Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins – had piloted Apollo 11 to the moon and two of them – Armstrong and Aldrin – had landed the Lunar Module on the moon’s surface at Mare Tranquillitatis – the Sea of Tranquility. Its safe landing was announced to Mission Control and the waiting world by Mission Commander Armstrong with the words,
‘Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed’.
The following day, July 21st 1969, saw Neil Armstrong take the first steps on the lunar surface, when he delivered the immortal line:
‘One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’
It was. Who can forget being enthralled by the grainy black and white television images of these heroes as they explored the barren wastes of the moon, pictures beaming almost impossibly from space into our homes, schools and workplaces? Everyone stopped and watched, or so it seemed…
Back on earth, the local newspapers were busy reporting the day-to-day goings on of the communities they served. Delving into the Archive to look back at the microfilmed Kirkby Reporter, we can see that in the run up to the Apollo mission, the edition of Thursday 15th May 1969 ran a feature which looked at a local school’s contribution to the Merseyside Science Fair to be held in June 1969 at Liverpool University, under the headline ‘In the name of Science’. All of the 335 pupils from St. Michael’s Junior School, Westvale, were involved in carrying out detailed scientific research for inclusion in the Fair. For example, one group studied the comparative heights and weights of girls and boys; pupils followed and plotted the progress of their teacher’s new born baby and one boy created a questionnaire to find out about blood, interviewing a local G.P. before putting the questionnaire together. Even the school budgie and Smokey the rabbit got involved – they had their pulses taken and recorded by pupils.
The period before the moon landing was an exciting time in Kirkby: the first Kirkby Show was held over two days on Friday 11th and Saturday 12th July and the Reporter was there to capture the fun in the giant marquee, declaring ‘It’s a Hit!’ in its headline from the 17th July edition. 14,000 visitors attended the Show – reportedly a fifth of Kirkby’ population.
The front-page headlines of 24th July featured the visit by Princess Margaret to Fazakerley Hospital’s new £740,000 maternity unit (she had been unable to attend the official opening in May due to an attack of gastro-enteritis) – and the moon landing inspired a number of witty advertisements from local companies. Don’t worry that you can’t book a seat on Apollo 11 – Phythians Travel Agency of St. Helens will put your name down in their Lunar Flight Register for early booking once moon flights are available (we’re still waiting…). In a tongue in cheek feature article, Budget Rent-A-Car International, a subsidiary of Trans International Airlines, appears to have beaten them to it, offering commercial charter flights on the TIA ‘949’ Super Spacecraft, luxury accommodation at the Hotel Luna in the Sea of Showers and, of course, lunar vehicle hire. The space race certainly inspired the imagination!
The Kirkby Reporter is also the source for some interesting accounts of sightings of Unidentified Flying Objects and alien beings. In December 1970, the Reporter put out a call for anyone who had witnessed several incidents involving U.F.O.s flying over Kirkby and the Industrial Estate that had been reported back in 1964. A man who was working as a security guard at the time of the phenomena was writing a book about the encounters and wanted to gather people’s evidence. He had witnessed unidentified objects flying singly and in formation, at times at very high speeds, throughout July and August 1964. The book – U.F.O.s Over Kirkby by John Parkinson – was published in 1972 and contains very detailed accounts of the mysterious craft sighted in the Kirkby area. It is available to view in the Archive.
Other sightings have been captured in the Kirkby Reporter.
As reported on Friday 24th May 1963, two local teenagers were stunned when a beam of light lit up the sky close to Kirkby Fire Station at around 10:30pm. One witness stated that ‘…it was a funny shape and a beam was coming from it at intervals’. The featureless object was hovering about 100 feet from the ground and circled the area for about an hour.
The front page headline on Friday 6th January 1978 declared ‘Serious Sighting Shocker’. Four young men had been driving along Old Cut Lane in Simonswood when they were confronted by an eight foot tall monster. The creature, described as wearing ‘an asbestos-like spacesuit’, blocked the road and approached the vehicle, at which point the men fled the scene, calling the police from a nearby farmhouse. The police took the sighting very seriously and emphasised that there was no indication that the men were drunk or that they were the victims of a prank. However, this didn’t deter the Reporter’s journalists from doing their own investigation – the following week’s edition featured a Reporter staff journalist dressed as an alien and parading around the town to get reactions from the local residents!
Whether sightings of other-worldly crafts and beings were prompted by the excitement of the space race of the 1960s and 1970s, or even the impact of Hollywood blockbusters like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the Star Wars franchise, we continue to look to the stars. With advancements in technology – the James Webb Space Telescope is capturing the most incredible images of the earliest galaxies in the universe – we continue to find inspiration in space travel and exploration.