Like any place we humans visit, it will eventually become violated. If it hasn’t been already.
Think all we’ve left on the moon’s surface are an absurd golf ball, various size-fourteen shoe impressions and a jerry-rigged flag? Think again. Not only have we left much detritus on the moon—various intentionally crashed modules (over twenty), three lunar-roving dune buggies (it’s beginning to look like a used car dealership) and lots of other mess—so have Russia, China (throw in two more rovers), India, Israel, the European Space Agency (whatever that is), Japan and—ready for this?—Luxembourg. (Do they need a new subject for a stamp?!?)
There are an estimated 445,000+ pounds of abandoned junk, much of it sizable, littering the moon. Read the annotated list. Its 85+ major-objects breakdown isn’t even complete, having left out “lesser” items such as a hammer and other tools, a Bible, goodwill message disc, commemorative plaques, etc. Really? It’s like some kind of urban park after a Fourth of July weekend.
The moon is one of the few things we have on Earth that everyone, and anyone, can experience. That’s not true of oceans, mountains, lakes, deserts, canyons, forests. Some people will never see an ocean or a mountain or a forest. Everyone can see the moon. Like the sun and the stars, it’s a universal connector. It’s owned by no one—at least not yet. It’s a shining mystery for everyone to be inspired by, no matter where they live, or when.
Indeed, anyone can mark its waxing and waning, from crescent to crescent, and its different iterations—blue, blood, yellow. Even within the probing eyes of a telescope, the moon is still stirring. And always that pale fire, as Shakespeare described it, shining whitely down on us. Who hasn’t been moved by the moon? Who hasn’t looked up to a full moon at night with appreciation in their heart?
There will be over 100 missions to the moon over the next decade, some to place people on its surface. Yes, you read that number correctly. That includes ours. What benefits are there to putting people on the moon? To live there? To build strip malls? To create a lunar Airbnb? Unlikely? There’s a new TV series, Hello Tomorrow! in which the main character sells timeshares on, where else, the moon.
W.H. Auden wrote a scathing poem about all this called “Moon Landing.” He published it just a month after the first moon landing in 1969. He has a striking line, among many, “Irreverence / is a greater oaf than Superstition.”
Do we really need to know it all? Can’t some things be left unknown or unknowable? Can’t we preserve a sense of wonder where it still exists in our world? Let it continue to amaze us with its grandeur and mystery?
Leave it alone, the moon. Absurd thought, I know. Nothing I say will change anything. But I’ll say it anyway.
Well done, Richard.