Reaching for the moon, love,
In Gemini G4C suit, love,
Will bring some for you, love,
Papery pieces of the surface,
If not a piece of moon, love.
Our love affair with the moon is an open secret; waning, waxing, crescent, full, each phase has been glorified and studied by the curious minds. The silvery moonlight never fails to express.
In poems like The Man in the Moon Came Down Too Soon by J. R. R. Tolkien, Half Moon in a High Wind by Carl Sandburg, The Freedom of the Moon by Robert Frost, The Moon Was But a Chin Of Gold by Emily Dickenson, The Mother Moon by Louisa May Alcott, Mrs Moon by Roger McGough, in paintings like Caspar David Friedrich’s Two Men Contemplating the Moon (1819), James McNeill Whistler’s Nocturne, Blue and Gold—Southampton Water (1872), Vincent Van Gogh’s The Starry Night (1889), the artists reveal and revel in the moony secret.
What is the moony secret? It is the personal conversation that one has with the moon. It is intense yet quick, fierce yet soothing, honest yet an illusion.
Sidereus Nuncius (Latin for Sidereal/ Starry Messenger or Sidereal Message; published in 1610) talks in-depth about the moony secret; it is an astronomical treatise written by Galileo Galilei, the father of modern science.
Becoming one of the first few who used a telescope to study the surface of the moon (along with some constellations and Jupiter’s four moons) Galileo discovered that the moon was not translucent and ‘a perfect sphere’ like Aristotle had believed it to be, that it had mountains and craters which were formed after it was hit by asteroids and comets, just like our planet Earth was.
The moon is imperfect (its surface is irregular), said Galileo’s theory, and this magnificent, and at the same time, tumultuous discovery brought it (the moon) closer to us mortal beings, providing exhaustive research material for the future scientists, accelerating the world towards a change.
“And yet it (Earth) moves”, a rebellious phrase at that time, allegedly spoken by Galileo, led to his imprisonment.
The Copernican heliocentric view (1543) that the Sun is in the centre of the solar system, with Earth and the other planets orbiting around it in circular paths, was a theory which Galileo studied and defended.
Centuries later, Galileo’s moony secret reached the moon when astronaut David Scott, during the 1972 Apollo 15 mission, demonstrated through the ‘Falling Bodies’ experiment what Galileo had proved long back, that the “acceleration is the same for all bodies subject to gravity on the Moon, even for a hammer and a feather” (watch the video here).
A space race between the USA and the Soviet Union led to many successful moon exploration missions, both manned and unmanned ones.
While the US Surveyor probes (1966-1968) transmitted 87,000 pictures of the surface of the moon and measured its chemical properties, the manned missions brought back pieces of the moon; Apollo 11 alone brought 47.5 pounds (21.5 Kg) of the lunar material.
The twelve people who have walked on the surface of the moon also left behind items, some as meaningful gifts to the moon and some out of necessity as they needed free space to carry moon rocks home.
A golden olive branch, the Bible, a silicon disk inscribed with goodwill messages from world leaders of 74 countries, American flags, a family photo, three golf balls, scientific pieces of equipment and also, bags full of human waste are some of the “artificial objects” still lying, in worn-out or wiped-out condition, on the moon.
Lying there as a symbol of victory, of advancement, of trust and of human life itself – humans, the mortal beings of the lonely planet Earth.
Or maybe these items are just a message for the Moon Rabbit who, according to some East Asian folklore, lives on the moon, pounding elixir of life for the moon goddess Chang’e.
After all, Apollo 11 astronauts were also aware of this story; command module pilot Michael Collins had said to the NASA mission control – “Okay. We’ll keep a close eye out for the bunny girl.”
We are connecting pieces, we are steadily moving towards the darkness out there, hoping to see the light. We are all reaching out for the moon with our eyes glued to the telescope, our minds calculating the numbers, our hands painting a masterpiece, our words penning an epic, our voices singing a moony melody and our hearts feeling the moony secret.
We have even smelt it (and perhaps even tasted it), the moon, yes we have. The moon dust smelt like burnt gunpowder to most of the astronauts. Quote—
“I wish I could send you some, it is amazing stuff, said Apollo 17 astronaut Gene Cernan.
It’s soft like snow, yet strangely abrasive.
Not half bad (sic), said John Young Apollo 16 astronaut.
It smells like spent (sic) gunpowder, said Cernan.”
Our love affair with the moon has only grown stronger with time; it is a part of our story and vice-versa, right, dear moon?
Science with its meticulous explorations and art with its colourful gravity will keep bringing us closer to the moon; it will take us to the moon and back.
Till then let us admire the only memento left on the moon that may last for millions of years, which is, the tracks left by the astronauts. Because there is no air or water on the moon, nothing will wipe it off, neither the extreme cold conditions nor the savage sunlight.
Till then let us continue revelling in the moony secret.
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