Page last updated at 16:54 GMT, Tuesday, 21 July 2009 17:54 UK

Is Armstrong's dream still alive?

By Pallab Ghosh
BBC science correspondent

Neil Armstrong on the Moon (Nasa)
What could we do now that would have the same impact?

When I saw Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon all things seemed possible, the very stars seemed within our grasp.

I imagined that when I grew up I would be living on the Moon with my family. Space travel would be the norm.

As someone who lived through the Apollo missions, I remember having my spirits and expectations of humanity's potential raised by those epic adventures.

But of course by 1972, the public got bored with the Moon missions, the TV ratings went down and the 60s sparkle went flat.

1994: Neil Armstrong says he still believes in the Moon dream

And as the Apollo era ended - so too ended the era of doing great things.

Of course Apollo was replaced by the shuttle and we watched adventures on Skylab, Mir and more recently the International Space Station.

But somehow the missions that followed in Earth's orbit didn't stir the blood in the same way.

With the end of Apollo came the oil crisis, Watergate, industrial unrest and ailing economic times. Instead of a new dawn, we entered an age of cynicism.

I remember wondering whatever happened to the "Armstrong dream"? Without it, we were suddenly left much smaller

Many of my generation have this feeling of loss. But, uniquely, I was lucky enough to have shared it with Neil Armstrong himself.

I met him 15 years ago as a young reporter working out of the BBC's Cambridge office for the regional Look East Programme. Armstrong was guest of honour at Cranfield University's 50th anniversary commemoration ceremony.

I spotted him having his picture taken after he'd received an honorary degree. I walked toward him and asked him some of the burning questions that Look East viewers wanted answers to..

Neil Armstrong (AP)
These days, Armstrong makes rare public appearances

My first question was: "Dr Armstrong - your reaction to being at Cranfield today?"

I was so nervous and excited that his answer washed over me. When he finished, I was caught unawares and didn't know what to ask him next so I ungrammatically stuttered out: "It's very rare of you to attend public engagements - what made you come all the way to Cranfield?"

"Arrrrrgh!" I thought to myself. "Here I am speaking to the first man on the Moon and all I can think of asking him are his impressions of Cranfield University!". I knew that I could only ask one more question. "Don't waste it", I thought as he finished answering my second question.

"When you set foot on the Moon all things seemed possible. The very stars seemed within our grasp. But now that dream has gone. Whatever happened to the Armstrong dream?

And he gazed down toward me - his kindly presence filled my vision as if I was being spoken to by a god. He said: "The dream remains! The reality has faded a bit, but it will come back, in time."

And with that reassurance, he set my world straight again. My cynicism had evaporated, my smallness was no more and I could dream about the possibility of exploring the stars once again.

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