An Aside Full of Lunar Facts

An Aside Full of Lunar Facts

I find it hard not to stop and stare whenever I catch a glimpse of the moon up in the sky. Even though I’ve seen actual footage of its surface, it still seems like a mystery. Moments like these inspired Lunar Escape—and I’m far from the only one who’s imagined an adventure on the lunar surface. 

Johannes Kepler

Perhaps the first of his kind, Johannes Kepler was a scientist by day (he’s the one who figured out orbits are elliptical) by night he wrote science-fiction. His book, Somnium published in 1634, was about a trip to the moon where there were strict guidelines around who could go. (Note—there are plenty of earlier stories of going to the moon, some are listed here.

In Johannes' world, the bar for entry to the moon was high—here’s a snippet of some of the requirements laid out by the demons controlling access:

“We do not admit desk-bound humans into these ranks, nor the fat, nor the foppish. But we choose those who regularly spend their time hunting with swift horses, or those who voyage in ships to the Indies, and are accustomed to living on hard bread, garlic, dried fish and other abhorrent foods.”

As a desk-bound human, I guess I’d be out of luck (and I’d prefer not to follow a diet of abhorrent foods).

His story had some real-life consequences as he lived in an era where witchcraft was still a crime. Somnium included a-not-subtly-hidden reference to his mother and implied she practiced witchcraft. As a result, she got arrested. Johannes had to fight hard to get her released.

Somnium was really a way for Johannes to share his views of what the moon might be like—and based on the information he had, he wasn’t far off in his descriptions of the rocky plateaus. A translation of the text can be found here.

Lunar Historical Sites

Fast forward several centuries, it’s no surprise that going to the moon forever changed how we viewed it. The lunar surface went from being a magical place (accessible only by demonic intervention in Somniun’s case) to a real place governed by the same science applicable on Earth. And we’ve left more than our fair share of junk up there. As Alice Gorman in Dr. Space Junk Vs The Universe asked, how should we view the artifacts we’ve left on the moon? Does the site of the first moon landing hold the same historical significance as the place humans first flew?

On December 17th, 1903 in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, USA, Wilbur and Orville Wright briefly took the sky and proved humans could fly. Today the site is a park complete with plaques and monuments

On July 20th, 1969 (a shockingly short time after the first flight if you think about it) Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the moon. Other than the debris they left behind, nothing yet marks that site. This lack is most likely because of logistics, so hopefully some day visitors will flock to where the Eagle landed, as they do to Kitty Hawk.

A possible lunar future is shown in the science fiction novel Artemis by Andy Weir, the site of the first moon landing is a museum visited by a constant flow of tourists.


In addition to creating a historical site, the first moon landing also put retroreflectors on the moon.

Multiple missions have left retroreflectors behind (here’s a list) as passive way to determine the distance between the earth and moon. Someone on Earth can aim a laser on earth at the retroreflector and measure how long the light takes to return. 

There’s even a Big Bang Theory where they did exactly that (check out the clip here). The question of if this experiment would work exactly as shown (it's a sitcom after all) is up for debate, however, with the right gear, anyone can prove humans have been on the moon.

By shooting laser beams, we have found the average distance from the earth to the moon is about 385,000 km. All the retroreflectors on the moon are still in use. These retroreflectors are the only Apollo experiment still returning data from the moon (I don’t know if there is Russian gear other than the retroreflectors still transmitting, but I doubt it) and has resulted in and improved knowledge of the moon’s orbit. 

First Picture of the Far Side of the Moon

From our Earth-based view point we only ever see one side of the moon--meaning there's a whole hemisphere of lunar geography hidden from our eyes. We finally got a first look at the far side in 1959, the image above. To me the image seems like a great start to a horror film.

It wasn’t until January 2019 that our first robots set foot (or track or wheels) on the far side.

For some great images of lunar geography check out here.

Moon Movies

The first movie depicting the lunar surface Le Voyage Dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon) came out in 1902 — before anyone had made powered flight work. And you can watch it here.

According to Lost Transmissions: The Secret History of Science Fiction and Fantasy by Desirina Boskovich, “The short film’s most recognizable image-a makeshift space capsule landing on the eye of the moon-remains one of the most iconic visuals in cinema history.”

That may be, but for sheer enjoyment my favourite moon based movie (which probably reveals more about my taste in movies than anything else) is Apollo 18 with Iron Sky as a fun runner up. It’s not a movie, but the TV series For All Mankind presents an alternate history of the race for the moon which also sucked me in.

Lunar Escape - Serialized novella on the Armchair Alien Substack

After years of captaining a cramped, Conglomerate owned survey ship, Lucas Ordaz is ready to retire and live his dream life on solid ground beside the love of his life. There’s just one last mission: before Earth’s defences obliterate the asteroid, Lucas needs to shuttle a scientist out to study it.

The scientist’s ambitions are set on fire when they discover a potentially alien object on the asteroid. She forces the reluctant crew to attempt bringing it aboard, and chaos ensues.

Lucas wakes up in an abandoned lunar mining facility, without a clue of what that object was or who he can trust. Most importantly, he has to find a way to make it home.

Part 1 is here.

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