Has the Moon Lost its Luster?

James Kraus

“My goodness, Mr. Bigelow, you are inspired!” Playboy magazine; May, 1962.

Once upon a time, there were few things more romantic and alluring than the moon, that mysterious glowing orb seemingly just out of reach and occasionally rumored to contain copious amounts of fromage vert.

“What is it you want, Mary? You want the moon? Just say the word and I’ll throw a lasso around it and pull it down. Hey, that’s a pretty good idea. I’ll give you the moon, Mary.”  – George Bailey to Mary Hatch in It’s A Wonderful Life, 1946.

The moon enthralled humanity since the dawn of time, with many surviving tales and manuscripts describing imaginary trips to the once fascinating celestial body.

Mel Tormé’s rendition of Blue Moon, 1949.

Ruminating on the moon became increasingly popular in the 17th century, when the invention of the telescope gave man a better look at the heavenly sphere, prompting Galileo to declare “It is a beautiful and delightful sight to behold the body of the Moon.”

Tintin heads for the moon, Hergé, 1950.

Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke fantasized elaborate travels to the lunar satellite. The latter’s A Fall of Moondust was published in 1961, the very year U.S. President John F. Kennedy announced his goal of putting an astronaut on the moon by the close of the decade.

Frank Sinatra’s take on Fly Me to the Moon, 1964.

President Kennedy’s goal was certainly a courageous one, with many required technologies and procedures as yet untried. Indeed, it was as ABC correspondent Frank Reynolds declared; The most audacious undertaking that man has ever attempted.”

Nevertheless after a few, sometimes tragic, setbacks; astronauts magnificently succeeded in orbiting the moon in December of 1968 and executed the goal of a lunar landing a short seven months later.

Ford Thunderbird brochure, 1964.

Once man had seen the moon up close, walked on it and brought soil samples back home to earth, the mystery of the once-distant planet dissipated. Astronaut Frank Borman described it as being “a vast, lonely, forbidding expanse of nothing.” The moon, a forbidding expanse of nothing!

The apogee of moon fervor: man sets foot on the moon, 20 July, 1969.

Earth’s moon, once seen as a beautiful golden nighttime beacon; the inspiration of countless writers and poets, was irrevocably demoted to, as Carl Sagan put it; a lifeless rock. No green cheese. No moon men. No strange creatures.

Once a natural boundary has been conquered, be it ocean, mountain or moon, it is never again as beckoning or tantalizing. It is common knowledge that Sir Edmund Hillary (wearing his trusty Rolex Oyster Perpetual) and his climbing partner were first to ascend to the summit of the once insurmountable Mount Everest, but who remembers the second or third team? Now climbing the once-sacred mountain has been reduced to little more than a bucket list item to be checked off and Instagrammed.

The reality: The dark side of the moon from Apollo 13, April, 1970.

The moon landing of fifty years ago was unquestionably a giant leap for man and the pinnacle of 20th century technological achievement, miraculously accomplished in the waning era of slide rules, logarithm tables, germanium transistors and analogue electronics.

Ultimately however, the Apollo program demystified the poor moon; unfortunately relegating the once enticing planetary neighbor to but a distant piece of arid, dusty real estate, ripe for such unsentimental endeavors as moon-mining.

NASA conception of a lunar mineral extraction base.

While celebrating man’s wondrous conquering of the moon, let’s also tip our hat to the seductive enchantment of the bygone just-beyond-reach moon.

4 thoughts on “Has the Moon Lost its Luster?

  1. Dear Sir, you have written a beautiful tribute to our moon. You might be interested in the exhibition in Paris at the Grand Palais: https://www.grandpalais.fr/fr/evenement/mooon
    May I add to your list of those who clebrated the moon the names of French film-maker Méliès https://images.app.goo.gl/eDvTe5BcPW2MwPU67 and the poet and writer Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac, who once devised several means to travel to the moon. Lifting this from Wikipedia:

    Cyrano de Bergerac’s works L’Autre Monde: ou les États et Empires de la Lune (“Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon”, published posthumously, 1657) and Les États et Empires du Soleil (The States and Empires of the Sun, 1662) are classics of early modern science fiction. In the former, Cyrano travels to the moon using rockets powered by firecrackers (it may be the earliest description of a space flight by use of a vessel that has rockets attached) and meets the inhabitants. The moon-men have four legs, firearms that shoot game and cook it, and talking earrings used to educate children.

    Other means pursued by Cyrano include tying himself to a flock of wild geese flying in direction of the Moon, and wearing a myriad of tiny glass bootles sowed to his waistcoat containing morning dew, which will evaporate in the morning sun, thus lifting him gently to the Moon. Very different from Saturn V as you see.

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