I CAN'T let the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 pass without marking what was, for someone who was eight years old at the time, a life-defining moment.

Technically, although most people consider the space race was won when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969, it actually ended on the 24th, when the command module splashed down.

That’s because, when President Kennedy set the goal “before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon,” it was with the proviso of also “returning him safely to the Earth”. That was the hardest part.

Kennedy’s epic speech was delivered in May 1961, only six weeks before I was born, and six weeks after the Russians put the first man in space.

Therefore, all my life has been lived in the Space Age, and it’s a privilege that has never been lost on me.

I can remember watching the launch of Apollo 11, but did not witness the live television pictures of Neil Armstrong’s first step.

We were on holiday at Great Yarmouth at the time, it happened late at night, and I and my twin brother were put to bed while the adults in our party went off to watch it on our campsite’s single TV set.

I never forgave my parents for not letting us watch what was obviously one of the greatest of all historic events.

Some argue that spaceflight is a waste of money, but if you cannot see how pushing boundaries provides giant leaps for mankind, then I’m afraid there’s little hope for you.

My fascination with space had hit full throttle by two years after the first moon landing, because I have vivid memories of the summer of 1971, when our (junior school) teacher had our class working on the latest ‘topic’.

I’m not even sure that ‘topics’ still exist in the beaten-up idea of schooling that prevails in Britain today, but it was a brilliant device for whipping up interest and promoting creativity in extra-curricular things.

Every day, once we had got the boring routine lessons out of the way, the latest ‘topic’ fired our imaginations and made us creative, and space was an obvious choice.

The space theme could be found everywhere, from cigarette cards to coins given away free with petrol that formed a collection called Man in Flight.

A couple of years later I also vividly remember standing open-mouthed in front of an Apollo command module at the Science Museum in London, and I found it no less awesome, many years later, when I stood in front of another in a museum in Florida.

For me spaceflight was (and still is) the ultimate inspiration.

Kennedy put it perfectly in 1962 when he said: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

I have never listened to that speech without the hairs on the back of my neck standing up.

So where did it all go wrong?

Every day I wake up depressed by the fact that, far from dreaming of emulating Apollo 11, we now live in an age when mankind lacks ambition, and many choose to believe that scientists and other experts have got it wrong.

Instead they put their faith in foolishly basic and simple-minded ideas, as if they could ever be any kind of way forward.

We no longer do things because they are hard, Mr President, but because politicians have spent the last 50 years selling us the lie that they are far easier than they are.