Lunar Exploration: Culture and Wonder

A while ago I went to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich to see the Moon Exhibtion. There was a lot of interest in this exhibition and being a space geek I had to investigate and see what it was like. It was really good and amazing for a celebration of Apollo 11.

Good luck and God speed said the world to Apollo 11. It was a grand adventure to travel all that way to the Moon and then return safely to the Earth. But there was also a grand tour in this exhibition to see many things associated with the Moon.

The Moon has played a significant part in three major monotheistic religions. Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Christianity uses the Moon as a calendar to tell when Easter Sunday falls in April or March. When Jesus Christ was crucified and then resurrected it happened during the first appearance of a full Moon on the first Sunday of a Spring equinox, which alternates between 21st March (2019) and 10th April (2020) on every other year. This explains why Easter is held on two different dates each year.

In Judaism the Moon is used for their calendar as well because it’s lunisolar. A horn made from a ram’s horn called a shofar is blown on a New Moon to signal Rosh Hashanah (New Year) and Yom Kippur (Atonement) and several other religious events are determined by the Moon. Islam makes a symbolic tribute to the Moon in it’s holy objects. One of the most of notable of these is the Crescent Moon used as their religious symbol as seen on mosques and Islamic national flags. To them the Crescent Moon represents purity, growth and protection.

I saw these items in the museum and was amazed by their stories. The religious value of the Moon has been presented in the museum with accompanying items as well. But the other parts of the lunar legacy that I feel associated with is in the other two parts of the exhibition: astronomy and exploration.

Artists have been inspired by the majesty of the Moon for centuries and it shows in a collection of artworks by painters like J.M.W. Turner and John Russell. Turner was specialised in watercolours and showed the luminescence of the Moon against the backdrop of the sky creating this atmospheric effect with the Moon’s reflection on the water. Russell was a pastel portrait painter and he used his skills from his day job to create a personal collection of pastel portraits of the Moon with gleaming whites and blue aurora. Very beautiful paintings and I recommend getting posters of those for home artwork.

As an amateur astronomer I couldn’t help but see the achievements of the astronomers that studied the Moon. Galileo’s telescope is replicated in this exhibition along with some of his sketched, which record the first ever geological studies of the lunar surface. There are lot of Moon maps here with one of them dominating an entire wall made of smaller pieces of prints like a large puzzle. These were crucial to the future space explorers when it came to the space age a century later.

Every space fanatic likes to see a model rocket, and as always the first choice is the mighty Saturn V. I had a couple of models of that rocket when I was young and this time I saw a 1/48 scale with incredible detail. One of the best items from the Apollo spacecraft that I saw here was Buzz Aldrin’s communication cap, better known as a Snoopy Cap. It was incredible to see this headgear worn by one of the greatest explorers that stepped into history in 1969. ‘Magnificent Desolation’ was what he said after Neil Armstrong took a giant leap for mankind.

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Pieces of the Moon was also present here in the exhibition that had been presented to Britain during the months after the Apollo 11 crew returned to Earth on a publicity tour. It was a token of goodwill that showed the world how the whole of humanity worked together to undertake a mission that united the world in harmony.

Talking of the world in harmony this exhibition also shows how exploration of the Moon in these recent times has become a grand adventure with other nations trying to take their own shot at the Moon. India has recently sent a second spacecraft called Chandrayaan 2 to visit the south pole of the Moon, Israel sent the first ever private spacecraft to land on the Moon, China has a roving vehicle on the far side of the Moon and Europe is investing in technologies alongside NASA to build it’s own Lunar colony. It seems that the Moon has now become a commodity for entrepreneurs as well as national endeavours in pride and self determination.

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ESA layout of construction of a lunar base

Apart from my own photo collection the camera that the Apollo astronauts to take the images of their flight was also here. A Swedish made Hasselblad camera complete with a film cartridge.  There was a set of pictures taken by the astronauts including the most famous picture ever taken by Apollo 8 in 1968 called Earthrise.

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