Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Fly Me to the Moon

As I type this, a NASA probe with the ungainly name of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is circling our Moon, its mission to map the virtually unknown lunar poles. The lunar survey by the LRO and its piggyback companion, a water-seeking satellite called LCROSS, will provide crucial data for the planned NASA mission to return humans to the Moon by 2020. LRO and LCROSS are looking for suitable places for astronauts not merely to land, but to stay awhile.

This chunky little satellite (which bears more than a passing resemblance to Wall-E) mapping our nearest neighbor in space got me thinking about Moon maps and pre-space age depictions of the Moon, and eventually led me to this lovely thing, drawn by Englishman Thomas Harriott in July 1609. It is having its 400th birthday next month. Think about that, and the 40th anniversary of the Moon landing becomes a little extra special.

So in honor of our celestial cartographers, both mechanical and human, here is a list of some moon-related reads, all predating the Apollo 11 landing. Some of these suggestions are courtesy Patricia Altner’s comprehensive online bibliography of the Moon in science fiction. She was happy to share her recommendations with Glass Salamander.

"My enjoyment of science fiction began such a long time ago that SF was considered to be only of interest to boys! In those olden days the idea of going to the moon was a distant dream. Only science fiction writers could make it seem real. For me the stories of Robert A. Heinlein were the best-- Have Spacesuit Will Travel; The Man Who Sold the Moon; Rocket Ship Galileo --all feature the Moon. Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon is a classic for all ages as is H. G. Wells's The First Men in the Moon."
Altner also recommends Prelude to Space by Arthur C. Clarke. "Written in 1951, it describes a future very much like the one we live in now." Not intended for kids, she thinks, but right for today's more sophisticated YA reader.

To that list, I'd add these favorites:

Hergé, The Adventures of Tintin: Destination Moon and Explorers on the Moon. London: Methuen, 1959.

Lofting, Hugh. Doctor Dolittle in the Moon.J.B. Lippincott 1928. For fans of Godzilla and Mothra, this late entry in the Dolittle series of books features the good doctor traveling by a giant lunar moth.

And I might have to find a copy of this gem by William Dixon Bell. The Moon Colony. It apparently features early depictions of terraforming and, as a special bonus, space pirates. I don't know if those are the gentlemen on the giant grasshoppers, but I would love to find out.

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