#Apollo50: Why has the human race remained in love with the moon?
The fact of the matter is, the moon is just a large dusty rock that looms over us. Yet, for almost the entirety of recorded human history, we’ve been enamoured by our four-and-a-half-billion-year-old orbital neighbour.
Manned lunar missions may have been on the world’s back burner for decades—the last one being in 1972—nevertheless, clips, photos, audio recordings, and conspiracy theories about mankind’s first and most exalted expedition, Apollo 11, never went out of vogue in the pop-culture realm. 50 years on.
Now there’s a sudden surge of global interest over the last few years. Case in point: ISRO’s Chandrayaan 2 and NASA’s Artemis program. Why has the human race remained fascinated with this celestial body for aeons?
“It’s the largest and brightest object in the night sky. That alone is reason enough,” begins James Van Der Pool, a filmmaker who has been creating popular documentaries like Wonders of The Moon with the BBC Natural History unit since the 1990s. The director adds, “It’s also an immediately attractive thing as it unites the globe—we all see the same moon. It has an enduring appeal and power.”
There’s a lot of mystique and spiritual connotations associated with the moon’s ‘power’. The Aztecs linked this ‘power’ to death, while Siberians believed it granted magical abilities. Such lunar myths, that trigger the imagination, are endless. During the Middle Ages, medical practitioners associated the moon’s phases with mental health. That’s literally how the term ‘lunatic’ became part of our vernacular.
“From childhood, you look up and wonder. Then there are the many stories around the moon that’s passed down to us from generation to generation, across various cultures of the world. I think as we explore space and make new discoveries, we start to unlock the secrets of the moon. The more knowledge that comes our way, the more it feeds into those cultural influences,” explains James.
Such lunar references have seeped into the very fabric of our existence—from sci-fi bestsellers to the first-ever recorded song, Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville’s Au Claire de la Lune (1860).
Waxing and waning
Just as the aforementioned French folk song talks about being ‘in the light of the moon’, India’s scientific masterminds are hoping to shed light on the famed ‘dark side of the moon’.A region—which scientifically speaking isn’t really in the dark, just on the far side—on the celestial body that’s never before been explored by any country on the planet.
NASA, which last sent a man (Eugene Cernan) to the moon 47 years ago, now hopes to land the first woman on the moon. Their new mission is named Artemis, after the twin sister of Apollo and goddess of the moon in Greek mythology.
“Well, I can only be excited by the thought of a return to the moon. And also about the explorations on the far side of the moon. It’s going to be fascinating because it’s such a mysterious world. I sort of grew up in the wake of the Apollo mission, so I know from experience that the sense of wonder and human achievement that comes through these things is hard to quantify as it is incredibly valuable,” shares the celebrated filmmaker behind hits like Horizon.
His previous production, Wonders of the Moon, lauded for its accessibility, follows the monthly cycle of our celestial satellite. James captures this brilliantly by showcasing how deeply interconnected the moon is with both our planet’s wildlife and various cultures from around the world.
Now, he has just wrapped up another lunar-centric documentary with the BBC titled 8 Days: To the Moon and Back—an in intense 90-minute dramatic retelling of the three-man Apollo 11 mission that lasted eight days, three hours, 18 minutes, 35 seconds.
It manages to catapult viewers right to the heart of the mission, using previously classified sound recordings from inside the cockpit. “That is an attempt to capture a sense of human endeavour and achievement. A look at the way in which, what was effectively a Cold War propaganda exercise turned into a global event,” explains James, elaborating, “And what we’ve tried to do with that film is tell the story from the inside. What was it like for the astronauts? Their experience of actually being in that small capsule, travelling a vast distance across space, and making that courageous descent into another world. I think that’s what we’ve tried to do for the viewer—create an immersive sense of being on that journey. Being the fourth member of that team.”
8 Days to Moon and Back, will premiere at 8 pm.
Wonders of the Moon, will premiere at 11 pm.
On July 20.On Sony BBC Earth.