‘Why had we come to the moon?’ the narrator of H.G. Wells’s The First Men in the Moon (1901) asks. ‘The thing presented itself to me as a perplexing problem.’ The novel features in The Moon exhibition at the National Maritime Museum, alongside other books that anticipated the space age: Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon (1865) and Lucian of Samosata’s True Story, written in the second century AD. It begins with a ship blown to the moon by a whirlwind; a war between Phaethon and Endymion ensues, enabled by giant spiders. Aubrey Beardsley was one of the illustrators of an 1894 English edition.
Buzz Aldrin may have been only the second man to walk on the moon, but he was the first to wear a watch on its surface. In 1962 Nasa visited a jewellery shop in Houston, bought some timepieces, and subjected them to what agency historians describe as ‘exhaustive tests aimed at determining performance reliability in the conditions likely to be experienced during EVA'. That acronym stands for ‘extravehicular activity’, which means moon walking, which means temperatures ranging from -250 to +250ºF.
Steven Shapin on the Moon landings, from the LRB of 1 September 2005: Can you remember what Armstrong said next? (‘Yes, the surface is fine and powdery. I can kick it up loosely with my toe. It does adhere in fine layers, like powdered charcoal, to the sole and sides of my boots. I only go in a small fraction of an inch, maybe an eighth of an inch, but I can see the footprints of my boots and the treads in the fine, sandy particles.’) Can you remember anything else that anyone said on the Moon? Can you guess the Last Lunar Words? There’s actually a dispute about this: Gene Cernan distinctly recalls saying ‘Let’s get this mother out of here,’ while the Nasa transcript has him saying ‘Okay. Now, let’s get off.