Matt Dowling’s fascination with the United States’ moon landings began in a very earthbound way.
In November, 1998, he was staying at a mate’s place in Sydney when he went for a swim at the famous Dee Why surf beach.
‘‘I got dumped by a giant wave and broke my collarbone. Then I was told I needed surgery so I had to fly home to Melbourne, but before that, I had to spend two very uncomfortable nights on my mate’s sofa,’’ he said.
What happened next, essentially changed Matt’s life.
‘‘To take my mind off the pain, my mate gave me this book on the moon landings. I read it in two days and was hooked on the story,’’ he said.
The book was Moonshot: The Inside Story of America’s Race to the Moon written by America’s first man in space Alan Shepard.
Matt now has his own dog-eared copy of the book together with a unique library on America’s space race including more books, DVDs, videos, magazines, newspaper articles, and signed photographs of astronauts on the moon.
‘‘I found myself looking for more books on the moon landing, then I found magazines and other stuff and it’s just grown,’’ he said.
His collection includes more than 20 editions of the American Life magazine from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s which carried the original photographs and stories of the moonshots as they happened.
He said a 1958 Life magazine with a cover photograph of the original seven astronauts of the Mercury space program, including Neil Armstrong, was nearly lost.
‘‘My dad was clearing out a shed at the farm and throwing stuff on a pile to be burnt when he came across this. Luckily he said, ‘I wonder if Matt wants this?’,’’ Matt said.
Over the years Matt’s knowledge of America’s moon landings has increased to the point where he peppers his conversation with details and trivia.
What he doesn’t know about the lunar missions could be written on a speck of moondust.
For instance — to save weight before lunar take-off, the astronauts kept the photographic film but threw away the Hasselblad cameras worth thousands of dollars.
Or how about this for DIY electronics?
When the first two moonwalkers climbed back in their capsule to return to Earth they found a broken switch which they repaired by jamming a pen in it.
Then there’s the simple stuff — mission commanders had to wear red arm stripes on their suits so the Houston team could identify them. Then there’s the pen that wrote upside-down.
Matt said the Americans spent millions on developing a pen that could write in zero gravity — only to be beaten by Russian logic when cosmonauts were given pencils.
‘‘I just find the whole history fascinating. How it was accomplished is still incredible — using as much computer power as an early mobile phone,’’ he said.
‘‘I was only about a year old when the first moon landing happened so I don’t remember much about that. But I remember thinking as a kid that it took four days to get to the moon — that seemed an incredibly long time.’’
On his loungeroom wall Matt has signed photos of American moonwalkers Buzz Aldrin, Gene Cernan and Edgar Mitchell, but his most treasured photo is a candid one taken of himself meeting the 12th moonwalker geologist Harrison ‘‘Jack’’ Schmitt at a Melbourne Press Club talk 16 years ago.
The photo shows Matt, open-mouthed and wide-eyed in mid-conversation with a real live moonwalker.
The US moon missions still cast a spell for the ABC Radio breakfast show host.
‘‘It does hark back to a time when it seemed America could do anything.
‘‘It’s one of those things that still resonates — it’s still an amazing achievement.’’