As the Space Race began, the British Empire still dominated the Earth. Inter-service rivalry stopped the British Moon programme before it started. The Queen would be Queen of the Moon had rivalries between the services not sunk the whole programme before it took off.
The roar of a rocket from the Woomera Range could have begun a golden era leading swiftly to British voices being heard in orbit and eventually on the Moon. The first words of a man stepping out of a capsule on the Moon would not have been Neil Armstrong’s famous One Small Step, but “No – after you!”
Who was to control the space programme though? The Royal Navy as the senior service naturally spoke first and insisted that these space ships are vessels for navigation and so naturally fall within the purview of the Navy, and would fly the white ensign. The Royal Air Force objected however that rockets fly and therefore must be a matter for the RAF, under the RAF ensign. The Army then weighed in with irresistible force as is their wont, to point out that rockets fall within the Army’s remit, and furthermore that the aim of the programme was for a man to land on and occupy the Moon, which could only be the Army. The Navy suggested a compromise that the Navy should sail the rocket but the Royal Marines could land. No agreement could be found.
Each service had its friends in Parliament and friends in the nooks and crannies of Whitehall; everyone who had served in the War in one service or another or whose son or father did, and the battle raged in forthright memos and boozy lunches eaten in dark corners wearing regimental ties. On it went, and up went Yuri Gagarin while they still argued. They were still at it when an American man, Neil Armstrong, stood on the Moon on 20 July 1969.
Armstrong was of a Cumberland family, not a good family but a most notorious reiver clan. Had he followed family tradition, then at once he had captured the Moon he would have driven it off before the Lord Warden’s men arrived, but this scion of the Borders was a thoroughly dutiful American.
The race, for Britain, was lost.
- Chasing the Moon: The Story of the Space Race – from Arthur C. Clarke to the Apollo Landings by Robert Stone
- A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts by Andrew Chaikin
- First on the Moon: The Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Experience by Rod Pyle
- The Japanese Devil Fish Girl and Other Unnatural Attractions by Robert Rankin
- A Fall of Moondust by Arthur C Clarke