Topic: Landing on the Moon by Michael Morrissey

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I was having a beer in the London bar when the Apollo 11 landed on the moon. I was in a depressed mood because my marriage had fallen apart. When my wife walked out I couldn't afford the rent on my $9 a week flat. My life felt as smoky and out of focus as Neil Armstrong's hugely encased foot lowering itself down onto the moon's arid dust.

I had been expecting a landing a lunar landing ever since 1950 when I was eight years old and first heard about Werner Von Braun and his rockets. I had begun reading science fiction from age twelve. Science fiction effortlessly renders a moon landing as a given. My parents thought landing on the moon, was flatly impossible. I knew better. Since I had seen the first satellite, launched in 1957 (my father refused to believe it), which seemed to bounce its way among the stars, the moon landing seemed inevitable.

In 1969 New Zealand had not yet learn the art of being whipped up by media frenzy. When Armstrong and Aldrin strolled the moon, we did not dance in the streets.

Arguably going to the moon was a waste of money, an avoidance of the massive moral issue of Vietnam. And the astronauts - boring, clean-cut American boys, no long hair - were patently lackeys of the fascist American state. The United States not only ruled the earth, it had annexed the moon as well. As the American flag was triumphantly planted in the Sea of Tranquillity, the Soviets were grinding their Russian teeth in frustration. The moon landing was a naked attempt to reduce the war crimes of Vietnam to a side issue.

Though the astronauts were devoid of poetic utterance, the moon's surface had been previously mapped with Roman poetry. Specifically, waterless seas which, compared with the harshness of lunar reality, gloriously reek of fake Tennysonian ornament. The Sea of Showers is rainless; the Sea of Foam has no white caps; the Sea of Nectar lacks bloom; the Sea of Muscovy has neither government nor people to govern; the Sea of Fecundity will never flourish a pregnancy. Only the Sea of Cold lives up to its name.

The Lakes fare no better - the Lake of Summer provides no water skiing; the Lake of Joy is joyless; the Lake of Softness is hard and cruel; the Lake of Luxury has no running water; the Lake of Autumn sheds no golden leaves. The Lake of Solitude is apt; the Lake of Hope is hopeless. The banal prose of astronauts is a stern antidote. It brings the moon back down to earth.

And how could level-minded Neil have got his carefully scripted speech wrong? What was clearly missing from ‘That's one giant step for man, one giant leap for mankind’ was the letter A. But future history found Armstrong not guilty of bad grammar. In 2006, Peter Ford, an Australian computer expert ran the NASA recording through sound-editing software and found the acoustic echo of an A. Apparently Armstrong said the word too fast to be audible. Contra – Armstrong admits he is prone to dropping small words.

The photograph of the earth, known as the blue marble, taken on the Apollo 17 mission in 1972, looks like something Turner might have conjured up on a quiet day. No other planet remotely resembles this powerful blue and white swirl, with the top of Africa and the Arabian deserts showing as mild, not quite Martian, pink expanses. Said to be the most widely distributed image in history, it's an iconic image of terrestrial beauty.

Imagine Martians staring at this welcoming planet and deciding not the cold red plains of Mars or the howling furnace of Venus - I'll take this blue marble! When Hendrix sung ‘a million miles away and at the same time I'm right here in your picture frame’ he was anticipating the grand sight of the blue marble.

Science fiction had been expecting arrival on the moon for two millennia. Robert Heinlein, one of the Big Three in the golden age of science fiction – the other two being Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke - had predicted a lunar landing in 1959 and that's just what the Soviets pulled off, though it was unmanned.

In the 1990s, people started asserting the 1969 moon landing was a fake. (Oddly, the other five subsequent missions were not so accused.)  No one has ever denounced the atomic bomb as a fake, though the Holocaust has its lying deniers. The moon landing was a soft target. No dome or structure existed to rebut the banal ingenuity of accusatory hocus pocus.

Despite the fact that the numerous silly reasons for it being a fake have all being carefully rebutted, the notion persists, particularly with the young. The attitude is much the same as disbelieving the Egyptians could have built the pyramids unaided, or the puzzle (no longer considered to be so) as to how the Easter Islanders moved their giant statues. The ancients - and in today's fast track world 1969 looks increasingly ancient - couldn't have done it. Insufficiently advanced technology.

Oddly, the principal moon deniers are American. On reflection this isn't so odd, for the Americans have a heroic tradition – allowed by the First Amendment – of attacking their own achievements and icons. The greatest democracy on earth loves to lay siege to its own walls. Disturbingly, it was reported that in 2009, an extensive search failed to locate the original footage. The official verdict is accidental erasure.

Tampering with history is a perturbing thought. The great battles of ancient Greece were given exaggerated numbers, the Black Hole of Calcutta has been denied, as has the most famous massacre of the Guatemalan deaths squads in 1982. In 1835, the New York Sun published an article allegedly by the famous astronomer Sir John Herschel, though actually by a reporter called Richard Locke, which claimed discovery of living beings (including bats and winged humanoids) on the moon.

Locke was satirising, among other thinkers of the day, the Reverend Thomas Dick, known as the Christian Philosopher after the title of his first book, who had generously estimated the population of the Moon had over four billion inhabitants. At the time, the population of the earth was only slightly over a billion. So if we had a moon hoax in 1835 why not another one in 1969?

For several good reasons.

Forget for the moment all the talk about shadows, lack of stars, waving flags - all the bothersome nay-saying bric-a-brac prompted by the photographs of the astronauts on the moon's surface – and consider two factors that militate against these juvenile suspicions.

First, the Russians who were desperately trying to beat the Americans but failed, would have the strongest motive imaginable to decry the American achievement as a fake. However, they didn't make a sound because their astronomers, like many around the globe, were tracking the mission.

Second, of all the thousands of employees – 400,000 in total - who worked on the Apollo mission, there has never been a whistleblower. If the biggest hoax in history was being perpetrated, someone would have squealed. And once one squealed, plenty more would have emptied their throats of the lie that had choked them into silence.

And if the first moon landing was a fake what about the next five missions – were they also a fake? A mirror left on the lunar surface can still be used to accurately compute the distance of the moon. How did it get there? The Russians had bulls-eyed the moon ten years earlier in 1959. Was that lunar strike a fake also?

For science fiction readers, the moon was only the start, though it had signalled the end of my marriage.  The moon landing was prosaic, mechanised but real - science catching up with Lucian who wrote of the venture nearly two thousand years earlier.

Mrs. Kennedy, the fictional character based on my mother (not President Kennedy's wife) who starred in my unpublished novel State of Grace complains, “No one would ever dance on the moon.” But that's what 600 million saw – American astronauts dancing on the moon. Low gravity made Armstrong and Aldrin light-footed.

Since I had given up reading science fiction around 1960, the actualities of science had also receded in impact. When Sputnik surprised the world, I was reading The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester. Set in the twenty fourth century, Bester's rich science fiction landscape featured a colonised solar system...

In solar systemic metaphor, New Zealand was Mars made green. Rather than being terraformed, it needed to be Anglo-formed...

Even more grandiose, Isaac Asimov's Foundation had a human-conquered galaxy with a sextillion inhabitants. Compared to these solar and galactic forays, the moon landing was a primer.

Hendrix thrilled me more than lunar arrival.



ABOUT THE WRITER: Michael Morrissey has published twenty books, his latest being Taming the Tiger, a memoir of manic depression. View Michael J. T. Morrissey at Wikipedia for a full bibliography.

‘Landing on the Moon’ was written for the Memoir & Local History Competition 2011, run annually by the New Zealand Society of Authors (Bay of Plenty Region) with support from Tauranga Writers.


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