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Sunday, 12 July 2009

Destination Moon

As we approach the 40th anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 moon landings, it’s worth taking a look at what was known about our satellite less than two centuries ago. Its orbit and movements were pretty accurately known, and its surface reasonably well mapped.
A writer in the Penny Magazine (22 June 1833) humorously speculated whether imaginary inhabitants of the near side of the moon read Penny Magazines which described the appearance of the planet Earth, and if moon dwellers discussed what kind of creatures lived on a planet wreathed in vapours.

The writer, however, finished his discussion by explaining to his readers that ‘the existence of any animal like man is impossible’ on the moon, not just because of the length of the lunar day and night, but because of ‘the want of an atmosphere.’ So nineteenth century scientists had a pretty good idea about conditions on our companion in space.

A very exciting new website will go live this week, which will explore the story of Apollo 11’s astronauts in a ‘real-time’ recreation of this never-to-be-forgotten mission. I was just eleven years old that summer, and I vividly recall holding my breath as the astronauts piloted their fragile craft down to the moon's surface, and the relief when they arrived safely at their destination.

Image: Telescopic appearance of the Moon, Penny Magazine, 22 June 1833, Author’s collection.

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