This is a book written for the Moon. It carries the thoughts of an ordinary human being living on Earth about the Moon. Read Chapter 1 here.
The 12 astronauts who returned from the Moon rarely talk about their time there. Aldrin once described it as being “stripped out of the whole process of going to the Moon”. It was like sitting at home on the couch and watching yourself being watched on the Moon. Many people can remember all the technical details of the moon landing, but they can’t recall what it was like to be on the Moon. It was as if these memories belonged only to the Moon. When they returned, they were left on the surface of the Moon forever, like the landing gear of Lunar Modules.
Some people call this ‘Moon Amnesia’. They argue that the overly detailed and tight schedule and the immense psychological pressure caused them to focus on the mission itself, leaving all other memories to fall by the wayside. There may be some truth in this argument, but as I understand it, these astronauts are not completely mission machines. They were perhaps more interesting than we might have thought. They race high jumpers and lunar rovers and play golf on the Moon. Of course, they probably saw all of this as part of the mission because they remember it all so well!
When the Moon spacecraft looped to the far side of the lunar orbit, Earth’s signals couldn’t reach them. One NASA worker called it “the deepest solitude human has experienced since Adam”. In that place, the huge moon blocked out all light from Earth, while behind them lay the stars and the endless darkness of the universe. Some of the astronauts “lost their sense of joy” when they were immersed in this solitude; some astronauts enjoyed it so much that they were able to enter another dimension and think about the universe; while others learnt the preciousness of the noise and learned to value every mundane part of the Earth.
While the commander drove the lunar module to the surface with his flight partner, the control module pilot was left alone in lunar orbit. When it is time to head to the far side of the Moon again, he will be left alone with this loneliness. The nearest humans were still on the Moon, and it was not clear whether they would return safely. When Michael Collins Michael Collins, Apollo 11, Born in 1935, Died in 2021, Apollo 11’s control module pilot, heard himself referred to as ‘the loneliest man’, he laughed and said he was too full of tasks to feel alone at that time. But I’m sure that when his ears are no longer filled with the whispers from the command centre, when he is only surrounded by the noise of instruments running, when he is still worried about bringing his companions Neil and Buzz back to Earth safely, no one will understand the real meaning of loneliness better than him.
As the first human to walk on the Moon, Neil Armstrong’s Neil Armstrong, Apollo 11, Born in 1930, Died in 2012 selection seemed a perfect decision. Humble, calm, rational and erudite. Writers and journalists have always used these words unstintingly to describe the astronaut. He seemed to have everything a good spaceman needed to have.
The popular image of Armstrong is limited to various reports, biographies and interviews about him. But it probably doesn’t matter what his true character was like, or not that much. Everything we can see Armstrong doing has proved to us that he was different. He has been described as “driving in the dark and foggy night”, where any light that hits him is reflected and you can only see the image you expect from him.
He has indeed earned this precious opportunity through his strength. The handling of the crisis in Gemini 8 proved to NASA that Armstrong’s calm strength helped him to win the opportunity to fly Apollo 11. On Lunar Module Eagle he again used his calmness and rationality to manage the landing crisis and successfully complete the mission to the Moon. On his return to Earth, he was no longer allowed to take part in new aviation missions due to his ‘special’ status as the first man on the Moon. Although he could have been well off with this title, he chose to decline most public events and commercial partnerships, escaping from the public eye and living in peace and quiet.
Like David Bowman in 2001, he is as cool as ancient ice in the darkest corner of the Moon’s pole.
Neil seems to have been appointed by the heavens to complete the moon landing. No one but him seemed to be up to the task of taking the first steps on the Moon on behalf of mankind. On 25 August 2012, Neil Alden Armstrong passed away after a long illness. After leaving the Moon where he had set foot, he also left the Earth where he had lived. While people were still in turmoil from the moon landing, would he have remembered what Collins had said to him when he returned to Earth: “Neil, we missed the whole thing.”
There are only four humans left on the planet who have been to the Moon. The average age of the four has now reached 90 years, which means that this number will continue to dwindle rapidly. The Earth’s memories of the Moon will also become fewer and fewer. It’s like a silent countdown, urging mankind to pick up its connection with the Moon again. It is slightly reassuring to know that, whatever the purpose, we are already doing it. Plans for manned lunar landings by various countries are on the agenda. Perhaps one day we will be able to travel between the Moon and Earth so often that the statistic becomes irrelevant. But remember the desperation you feel when that number gets close to zero.
I was once chatting with a friend about the moon landings. We talked about “What will it mean for us when moon landings become a regular thing?” Frankly, even if the moon landing becomes as commonplace as an international flight, for the average person it is just one more tourist attraction to visit. Or maybe we could use the ‘moon power’ generated by the Helium-3. I find it amusing to think that souvenir shops will be built on the Moon selling stuffed toys for the lunar module. As mankind continues to bring its own set of rules to new planets, it always makes you wonder if mankind is ready to go to other planets.
“The Moon is the oldest television Moon is the Oldest TV (Installation, Nam June Paik, 1965)”. Well, be it the apes of ancient times, the painters of the Renaissance or the poets of the Sui and Tang dynasties, all have given different meanings to the brightest celestial body in the night sky. No matter how fierce the strife on the ground, the Moon always remains the same, shining brightly. Will there ever be a day in the future when we can stand on the Moon and look out over the half-arc of the Earth, the place we know so well, the place that so many astronauts have described as ‘incredibly fragile’, and feel a little bit of the unusual, or glimpse a little bit of the truth about the world?
What does it mean for us to return to the Moon? We may only wake up when we are actually standing on the Moon. But let’s also consider the question Andrew Smith Andrew Smith, an American-born British journalist and nonfiction writer raised in Moondust:
“Do I stick with life as I know it, be happy and content with the considerable challenge of appreciating and improving that, or shoot for the Moon and risk being dissatisfied, finding that it wasn’t what I expected, or that nothing else can ever match it afterwards?”
This is a message for the Earth. It carries the sadness of an astronaut for the Earth.
3 June 1965, Gemini 4 astronaut Edward White embarked on the second-ever human, and first-ever American, extra-vehicular spacewalk. A 1/4 inch audio tape records a conversation between the Command Pilot James McDivitt urging White, who is lingering on the attractive view, to return to the cabin.
Mission Control: Gemini 4, get back in.
White is staring at the Earth. He is pretending not to have heard the instructions.
White: What are we over now, Jim?
McDivitt: I don’t know, we’re coming over the west there, and they want you to come back in now.
Mission Control: (White, ) We’ve been trying to talk to you for a while here.
White: Aw, Cape (Canaveral), let me just find a few pictures. This is fun.
McDivitt: Well, back in! Come on.
White: Coming in. Listen, you could almost not drag me to come back to you, but I’m coming.
McDivitt: You still have three and a half or four days ago, buddy.
White: I’m coming.
As White says this, his body finally begins to move reluctantly to the hatch door.
White: Ok. I’m on top of it right now.
McDivitt: Ok, you’re right on top. Come on in then.
White: The hand hold on that spacecraft is fantastic. You can really … Aren’t you going to hold my hand?
McDivitt: No, come on in the…
McDivitt: Ed, come on in here.
White: All right.
McDivitt: Come on. Let’s get back in here before it gets dark.
White: It’s the saddest moment of my life.
McDivitt: (Laugh) Well, you’re going to find it sadder when we have to come down with this whole thing.
White: I’m coming.
White is still not coming back.
McDivitt: Ok. Come on now!
The white craft floated in space with the magnificent Earth in front of it. This was the saddest moment of a person’s life. A month later, during a routine test of Apollo 1, the command module caught fire. Ed White lost his life in the accident. If White had survived the disaster, he would have left his footprints on the surface of the Moon during the Apollo programme, to see this beautiful and fragile planet again from there.