The Moon has always fascinated humans1; this can be seen in a range of different myths from all around the world. In Chinese Myth, a white hare was believed to live in the Moon and is usually depicted holding a pestle and mortar with which he mixes his elixir of immortality. Hindu mythology also has this elixir2 that is stored in the moon and only the gods can drink it, when the Moon wanes it is said to be when the gods drink it. In other parts of the world the moon represents other things; To the Fon people of Abomey (Republic of Benin), Mawu, the Moon, is the supreme god that brings cooler temperatures to the African world. Mawu has a partner called Liza with whom she created the earth. In Greek Mythology, Artemis was the goddess of the Moon, and also of the hunt.
Anaxagoras was a Greek philosopher who is thought to have been born about 500 BC in Asia Minor and is thought to have actually been a Persian Citizen. He was a member of what is now often called the Ionian School of philosophy (although Ionia was the centre of western philosophy in ancient times, the scholars it produced had very different viewpoints. This means it cannot really be called a specific school of philosophy). He moved to Athens in about 464 BC and earned respect from many people there, including Pericles, the Athenian general and statesman.
With him, Anaxagoras, brought the Ionian ideas of scientific inquiry and philosophy to Athens and began to make observations of the stars, the sun, the planets, and other things relating to astronomy. He attempted to give scientific explanations for eclipses, comets, rainbows and the sun. He described how the Sun was a large mass of stone, torn from the earth and heated by the rapid rotation. He said larger even then Peloponnese, the large peninsula in southern Greece and that the Moon (also a large mass of stone) reflected the light from the burning sun. Anaxagoras also speculated on the possibility of there being life forms on the Moon.
These theories brought him against the political opponants of Pericles and was arrested in about 435 BC and despite Pericles’ attempts to get him released, he was exiled to Lampsacus in Ionia.
The Middle Ages To The 1800's
By the Middle Ages, however, the Moon was believed to be spherical, but it was thought to be completely smooth. All over Europe, there were many legends about the moon, or about ‘the man in the Moon’. The man in the Moon is not, as often believed, a face seen in the full or cresent Moon, but more a man carrying a bundle of sticks, sometimes carrying a lantern and sometimes accompanied by a dog. In Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, the performance of "Pyramus and Thisbe" has a character representing ‘Moonshine’, and is dressed like this. This image is made up from the dark patches on the Moon and there are many other images, such as the hare (mentioned above), the toad, the Utchat (or the eye of Ra), the crab, and others. Like the images in the stars, if you look hard enough you will find a picture or symbol.
Also, the Moon was a major part of astrology; in the West the Zodiacal Sign where the Moon was present when you were born is called your Moon sign. Your Moon sign affects your personality and how your life unfolds. It must be noted that in astrology, the Sun and the Moon are equal, this is especially so in Chinese astrology. The Chinese astrologers said the Moon is feminine (this is may be because the womans menstrual cycle roughly corrosponds to the lunar month (28 days)) and the Sun is masculine, the balancing of your masculine and feminine sides (Yin and Yang) also affects your personality.
When Galileo Galilei drew one of the first telescopic drawings of the moon in 1609, he showed it to have many craters and that wasn’t, in fact, smooth.
Later in the 17th Century, Giovanni Riccioli and Francesco Grimaldi drew another map of the Moon identifying and naming the craters (we still use these names today). They called the dark patches Maria (singular Mare) or ‘seas’, and the light patches were called Terrae or ‘continents’. Another astronomer of this time was Johannes Hevelius who championed the existence of life on the Moon which he called selenites. Giovanni Riccioli greatly opposed Hevelius' ideas and they stood at opposite ends of the dispute.
For the next 200 or so years the idea that there could be life on the Moon was argued over again and again. The people who beleived it were called Pro-Selenites they included a great deal of prominent scientists, such as Johann Bode and William Herschel. Some believed there to be whole new species of animals and plants in strange and exotic landscapes. However, by the early 19th Century, there was enough persuasive evidence to prove that the Moon lacked sufficient oxygen and water to support life.
The Great Moon Hoax
This evidence did by no means stop people believing that there were Selenites, or other life forms on the Moon. On 25 August, 1835, and the four days following, the New York Sun published a long article in serial form. It was entiled:
'GREAT ASTRONOMICAL DISCOVERIES
BY SIR JOHN HERSCHEL, L.L.D, F.R.S.
At The Cape of Good Hope'
The article described how Herschel (apparently the son of the late William Herschel) had developed a new type of telescope that had an ‘estimated magnifying power [of] 42 000 times’, and with this new telescope he was discovering a whole, exotic, lunar landscape that included herds of bison, blue unicorns, ‘a beach of brilliant white sand, girt with wild castellated rocks’, and, to top it all, what seemed to be winged humans that appeared to live in a sort of paradise with magnificent temples and a crystal pyramid.
The whole thing was obviously (and quite disappointingly) a hoax3. The true authorship is usually attributed to Richard Locke, who actually never admitted it. Nor, in fact, did the New York Sun actually admit that it had been a deception, it simply said it might have been.
The next year William Beer and Johann Mädler published their four volumed Mappa Selenographica and Der Mond a year after that, which concluded with certainty that the Moon could not have, and had never, supported life.
These books finally persuaded most people that there wasn’t life on the Moon and the idea passed from science, to science fiction. Books such as Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon (1865) (which predicts men travelling to the Moon via a super-cannon), and H.G. Wells’ The First Men on the Moon (1901) (that includes, among other things, insect like creatures living in huge cities under the surface) were among the first.
The idea of life on the Moon / men on the Moon has been used in science fiction since then right up until the present day and has given rise to many classic books, films and cartoons.
In 1953, Hergé wrote Destination Moon his first Tintin book about the Moon (the sequel, Explorers on the Moon was published a year later). In which he tells of how Tintin and his friends first launch an unmanned rocket to photograph the ‘dark side of the moon’ and then travel there in a larger rocket.
Hergé’s rockets look very similar to the German V2 rockets (or ‘Doodlebugs’) of WWII, this is not unintentional, as the man who designed the V-rockets, Dr. Wernher Von Braun, was now working in America developing ballistic rockets for the US army. In 1960 he and his team moved from the army to the newly formed NASA and he designed the Saturn V launch vehicle that propelled Americas Moon rockets.
The Space Missions
Although many books were pure fiction (and most written well before any planned missions to the Moon), some were actually quite accurate in predicting the future (Tintin being one of them). On 14 September, 1959, the Soviet spacecraft, Luna 2, crashed on the Moon and became the first man-made object to land on it.
Just over 10 years later 4 Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin and Neil Armstrong landed on the Moon and officially became the first life on the Moon (they were also the first men on the moon, but thats a different story).
Over the next 3 years NASA conducted another five successful landings on the moon taking the total of men on the Moon up to 12 – all from the United States. Apollo 14 (the third landing, on 9 Febuary, 1971) was the first to be dedicated solely to scientific research. It was Alan Shepard and Ed Mitchell who landed on the surface, and although the purpose of the Apollo 14 mission was mainly geological fieldwork, Stuart Roosa, in the command module orbiting above was conducting a sort of experiment of his own.
Each astronaut was allowed to take one small bag of personal items into space (which was how Shepard managed to take up his golf balls), Roosa, a former U.S. Forest Service smoke jumper, had taken up a bag of tree seeds of a number of different species. It was sort of part scientific and part publicity stunt, but what he found was that, despite the much higher levels of radiation in space, when he brought them back to earth almost all of them (and their offspring) germinated and grew into healthy trees that showed no signs of defections5.
Although it is many years since men have landed on the moon, there has been recent evidence to suggest there is ice in the form of small crystals (amounting to about 7 billion gallons of water) at the north and south poles of the Moon.
As we look to the future, the knowledge that there is a supply of water and that plants will be able to grow there will be a huge advantage to humans if there is a base built there, if there is it will house the first permanent life on the Moon.