The Moon Revealed As An Object of Endless Fascination And Desire
POSTED ON MAY 22, 2019, BY ROWAN HOOPER
WHAT does the moon mean to you? Poetry? Art? Science fiction? Perhaps you imagine its pristine geology holds secrets of the formation of the solar system. Maybe you are fired up by the glory, innovation and adventure of the Apollo program. Or do you see the moon as an empty expanse, soon to house robots, factories and people? Oliver Morton’s wonderful and comprehensive book covers all this and more. As the subtitle says, it is a history for the future. The things I have learned from this book range from the near trivial but never boring to the profound, moving and inspirational. We learn about the role of the moon in the evolution, and even in the origin, of life on Earth, and Morton allocates a lot of space to the new lunar missions and plans to return to our satellite. It is full of human stories and rich with lunar-obsessed characters.
These include Russian physicist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, the first to show that a rocket powered by liquid fuel could produce enough power to break free from Earth’s gravity. Tsiolkovsky was a kind of mystical Elon Musk: a visionary who saw space travel as the means to further human evolution. Then there is Musk himself, whose drive and vision and achievements with SpaceX are much admired by Morton, who nevertheless labels him “a prick”. Indeed, the book is full of men. Gwynne Shotwell, the woman responsible for running SpaceX (and wrangling with Musk), isn’t mentioned. Neither is Katherine Johnson, the mathematician whose calculations helped Neil Armstrong land on the moon. But we do get a discussion of how pregnancy might be a problem in the moon’s gravity. Fifty years since the first Apollo landing, there is a real flurry of activity around returning to the moon. In the next few years, we can expect robot missions from China, India, the US and Israel, as well as from private companies. People may well follow soon. Morton expertly assesses the social, economic and scientific motivations behind this new space race, drawing on a huge amount of science fiction written about the moon. “Those stories,” he says, “read with a knowledge of what the moon is, help us think about what it might be.”