I've been glued to the swathe of TV programmes celebrating the 40th anniversary of man walking on the moon. I can just about remember watching them at the time, back in 1969, at the tender age of six. Just that irregular 'peep' noise that accompanies the footage of the astronauts is enough to engulf me in a wave of nostalgia about that historic moment, and the world we inhabited back then.
And I've been thinking about how that world differs from the one we inhabit now. I grew up reading every science fiction book I could get my hands on. I was fascinated by the whole concept of space travel. I was glued to 'Star Trek' every week. I told the careers advisor at school that I wanted to be an astronaut. I would stare up into the night sky until I thought my head would explode with the sheer vastness and mystery of it all.
Do kids still do that? Somehow it seems to me that awe has gone as much out of fashion as science fiction. Forty years on and we just seem so earth-bound. My children seem far more interested in their ipods than alien civilisations. We're all so obsessed with economic and environmental doom that it feels like we never look skywards any more. Even Star Trek has gone down the pan. The latest film was a relentless action-fest, packed with special effects but lacking any of the thought and intelligence of its predecessors.
Yes, the space program was expensive, but nothing compared with the world's military budgets. The US spent around $26 billion getting a man to the moon; in 1968 alone its defense budget was more than $78 billion. And the Russians spent a great deal less in getting to the big cheese.
And what we gained was immeasurable: wonder, excitement, hope and, most importantly, a sense of global unity. An estimated 500 million people worldwide watched Neil Armstrong take that incredible, daring, groundbreaking leap for mankind. And probably every single one of them was in the grip of the same emotion - awe.