On 12th April 1961 I was 4 1/2 years old. My Dad woke me up to tell me that a man had gone into space and had gone around the Earth. I must confess that I don't remember this but I have no doubt that it happened, for several reasons. Firstly, my Dad told me, years later. Secondly, it was exactly the kind of thing he would do. Although I was the second of four sons, my room had a globe, stars on the ceiling and a model of a rocket on the shelf. I think my Dad had tried to get all of us interested in his passion but I was the only one that had responded (the youngest of us, Martin, was not even 1 year old at the time, and became as passionate about space-flight and aeronautics as Dad, later in life.)
Three years later, Dad went away for six weeks. To Australia. It was years later that he revealed tiny bits of information about his trip. He had signed the Official Secrets Act and would uphold his vow until he died. What he could tell us was that he had gone to a place called Woomera, in the Southern Outback of Australia, to help with a test on a rocket. The rocket was called Blue Streak. It had been a failed attempt at a missile programme, post-war, by the British Government, who had then signed the hardware over to a European Launcher programme. Dad's area of expertise was radar. He had got his degree at Queen's, Belfast and had joined the Navy to further his knowledge of this new, emerging technology. During the 1950's he became immersed in radar, guidance systems and Defence work. To realise now that he was important enough to go out to this highly secret test, on the other side of the world, just boggles my mind. He was just Dad, surely? When he came back, he had bought me a remote control car, a Red Thunderbird. Remote control was such a new concept in 1964 that no one had thought to remove the cable that joined the car to the tiny steering wheel in my hand. I adored it. Over the years, Dad just kept stoking me up with information and passion about space-flight. We had no favourites and followed the progress of the Russians as closely as the Americans, when the information was available. As the Apollo programme developed towards 1969 I became obsessed with it. As Neil Armstrong stepped onto the Moon I was sat in my pyjamas, next to Dad, at 4am, as the rest of the house slept.
Nowadays, years after Dad died, I have rekindled my passion for space and, more importantly, for the men who have flown (and those who still fly) into space. I have had the chance to meet a man who walked on the Moon and another who flew to the Moon. In 2 weeks time I will meet Fred Haise, one of the crew of Apollo 13. I have said in the past that getting those 3 men back to Earth was one of the most brilliant feats of engineering, daring and sheer hard work that human beings have ever completed. To meet one of those 3 men will choke me up, I know. And all through these meetings, I think of my Dad. How he would have loved to be with me. How he would have loved to talk to these adventurers. And how proud he would be that I still hold his passion so dear.