According to the noted literary research house, Wikipedia, the earliest reference to the Moon being inhabited was The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, a 10th Century Japanese folk tale. The Superman-esque story is about a Princess from the Moon growing up on Earth with adopted parents rather than about travel, but it’s most likely the earliest extant literary reference to humans being on the surface of the moon. Certainly this could not have been the beginning of mankind’s fascination with our nightly visitor. I like to think the vast majority of humans, whether ancient or modern, share the experience of gazing at the moon with longing. Wanderlust isn’t bound by gravity.
Since than, many literary giants have used words to cross the void. J.R.R. Tolkein, Robert Heinlein, Daniel Defoe, Edgar Allen Poe, Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Arthur C. Clarke, Edgar Rice Burroughs, C.S. Lewis, Isaac Asimov, and George R. R. Martin are just a few.
But precious few of us ever got there. Neil Armstrong, who died today at 82, was the first to do so. Fair winds and following seas, sir, and thank you for your service and for turning science fiction into reality.
Writing to discuss the long shadow the Apollo Project has cast over the American one, Charles Homans concluded:
The American exceptionalism that Kennedy nurtured as a goad to accomplishment has become a cocoon. Kennedy once lamented that the Soviets’ primacy in space had left the “psychological feeling in the world that the United States has reached maturity, that maybe our high noon has passed … and that now we are going into the long, slow afternoon.” In retrospect, he had it backward. It is the moon landing, notSputnik or Gagarin, that haunts us. It is the point from which we measure our descent.
Neil himself echoed this statement, in testimony before the US House of Representitives, but ended his statements on hope:
The reality that there is no flight requirement for a NASA pilot-astronaut for the foreseeable future is obvious and painful to all who have, justifiably, taken great pride in NASA’s wondrous space flight achievements during the past half century.
Winston Churchill famously stated: “The Americans will always do the right thing after they have exhausted all the alternatives”. In space fight, we are in the process of exhausting alternatives. I am hopeful that, in the near future, we will be doing the right thing.
While we at Grand Blog Tarkin are in the business of speculating about alien invasions, giant space robots, and galaxy-wide theaters of operations, those problems are only possible in a future where humanity has escaped a one-planet grave.
Thank you, Neil Armstrong, for taking the first step beyond this world, and for doing so on behalf of peace from all mankind.