On this anniversary year of the moon landings, one of the many exhibitions that are opening is in London, and looks not just at the moon landing, but at the moon entire.
The moon is rather an odd thing when you think about it – far enough away to be mysterious, yet close enough to see. Sufficiently nebulous to fill religious texts and yet real enough to affect tides.
It is something that has direct daily impacts on our lives — even in modern times ships rely on the tides to move around ports and rivers. Moonlight, once vital for the harvest and to illuminate dark streets is today seen more for its decorative effect, and when in eclipse, for the blood stained glow.
An exhibition about the moon can therefore be a mix of the social, the artist, and of course, the science.
A cuneiform tablet is described as one of the oldest objects on display, which in turn opens the question about age. There are moon rocks on display here that are billions of years old, but are not counted, maybe because they haven’t been manipulated by mankind?
That’s the sort of debate that could keep an army of philosophers busy for years.
One of the more interesting objects on display is a moon globe — because it reminds us that despite its familiarity, half of the moon is permanently hidden from us. So a globe of the moon is unfinished, a tangible reminder of what was unknown.
Eventually, science caught up, and the exhibition moves into modern times, with the early telescopes and drawings, and eventually to the moon landing itself.
A project of science born out of cold war politics.
The race to the moon also sparked a whole slew of side projects, from huge volumes of fantasy books and TV shows, as science and fiction danced around each other and people got ever more excited about the next great leap forward for mankind.
Never forget the reservations taken by Thomas Cook for flights to the moon.
Everyone thought the moon, forever out of reach was suddenly achievable. And why not, after all for most people alive at the time, the planet had shrunk in their own lifetime from journeys across the globe taking weeks, to a just days by plane — so why not the same for space travel.
One thing I was particularly pleased to see is on loan from the lobby inside 10 Downing Street — some fragments of moon rock that were presented to every nation — here the British version.
It’s a reminder of a time when peace between nations was idealised, and also of the fact that space travel was a thing for governments and military heroes, not private individuals.
The space race is heating up again, with a curious mix of private investors and big government. The UK is one of the leading space powers in the world, although you might not know it, as we have a sizeable satellite industry.
The final photo on display, is Earthrise, one of the most famous photos in history, that spawned an entire generational awareness of the fragility of mother earth.
The photo is actually sideways from how it was seen by the astronauts, as the orientation we see today was felt to be more pleasing. It’s the only “fake” in the entire moon landing conspiracy.
Like any exhibition about something as huge as the moon, with its vast array of aspects, you can come out thinking that it’s been a bit thinned out, as they try to pack as many ideas into one space, but lack several football stadia worth of space for all the potential objects they could have shown off.
That though it partly what makes it a good exhibition, enough variety to remind people of the many aspects of the moon, without being packed to the gills with just one genre or other.
(at the maritime museum as that’s where they have the space for it, and ahem… tides!)
Don’t forget to buy some moon rocks on the way out.