I MET that Neil Armstrong once. Yep, the first man on the Moon, speaker of those famous words about “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”, was innocently trying to get on a London-bound train at York Railway Station one Saturday morning when he was suddenly confronted by a reporter and photographer from this august publication.

The commander of Apollo 11 had been speaking at a big business conference in Harrogate the previous day, and we had been “tipped” which train he was catching. What I, the aforementioned reporter, didn’t know was that while he was happy to talk to hundreds of entrepreneurs, he virtually never spoke to the media. (The chief reporter who despatched me to the station did know that, but omitted to tell me – thanks, Mike.) So what resulted was a rather embarrassing non-discussion as the former astronaut and his wife made their way to the train, during which I somehow managed, quite accidentally, to partially trip the great space explorer before he could get in the first-class carriage.

At least I got some comments out of him, apparently more than most journalists have managed, though they were rather brief. (Be assured, the first man on the Moon was scrupulously polite throughout, which is more than I would have been.) Altogether, it was not my finest hour, though I suppose it potentially created scope for a joke about “one small trip…”

It should all have been so different. You see, I can remember the sense of wonder when, nearly 40 years ago, Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins set off on their voyage into history. I was one of an estimated 450 million people across the globe who watched those famous telecasts of Aldrin and Armstrong walking in that curious way, in an alien landscape in their remarkably bulky spacesuits.

And, I suspect like many others who sat glued to their TV screens, the music that became the “Apollo theme” remains as vivid a memory as those images and Armstrong’s words. As a global media event, I don’t think it’s ever been beaten.

And what happened when I met this icon of our times? I tripped him up, and probably ruined his visit to Yorkshire. Great.

But, more importantly, what happened to the Apollo dream that held so many in its thrall? Having enjoyed the triumph of getting man on the Moon, more Apollo missions were sent; the only one that’s remembered much is unlucky 13, the one that went wrong. Missions to the Moon came to an end, though unmanned craft were sent further afield, perhaps most notably to Mars.

However, much has changed in the world of science and progress since those heady days. Back then, I was briefly confused to learn we were only just landing on the Moon, since my childhood TV viewing included Captain Kirk already boldly going well beyond the Solar System.

A little later Gerry Anderson, of Thunderbirds fame, made a show called UFO which envisaged having a busy Moonbase up and running by 1980, and manned spacecraft nipping there and back as frequently as holiday flights to the Med.

Meanwhile, he foresaw computers so big they took up an entire space station.

The reality is pretty well a reversal of that sci-fi vision. Instead, our technology has focused on the small and the personal; even our satellites in space tend to look back at the Earth, peering inwards instead of gazing out to new frontiers.

So have we lost the plot by neglecting what’s out there for what’s down here? Or was there never any practical point to space exploration? Was the whole, monumental effort just a colossal waste of time and resources, or a cover for spending zillions on nuclear missiles?

I would have liked to ask Neil Armstrong about all these things. I guess I never will now.