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