The Moon. So much of which that we take for granted today only really started after the Dark Ages. Blame Aristotle. There were theories before him that the Earth orbited the Sun but his teachings was not to study the evidence but stick to a theory and it kind of stuck so much that the biggest church, the Catholics, would burn anyone who objected to it. As I’ve covered Copernicus and Galileo elsewhere, we all know how Aristotle’s theory was finally over-thrown, although it took five centuries before the latest Pope finally gave out an apology. Score one for real science. In case you think this book is all about history, there is a reminder of how the influence of the lunar month also influenced how we have the Gregorian calendar we have today, before moving towards the present.
If anything, it’s more remarkable how little progress was made after Kepler and Newton worked out elliptical orbits, planetary motion and gravity between them. There was more concern from Robert Hooke as to how the craters on the Moon were created but never quite got the scale of damage it took. It wasn’t until the 19th century that work on the size of the Moon’s mountain ranges began to be calculated and because of terrestrial bomb used a proper study of craters. After the first world war, work began as to how the Moon was created led by Gerard Peter Kuiper, that should ring bells for those of you who wondered who the Kuiper belt of asteroids beyond Pluto was named after. Even so, it wasn’t until the late 50s, when both Russians and Americans launch satellites to examine the Moon that more close-up information was discovered. It was also the Russians who took the first photographs of the dark side of the Moon, never seen down here because one side is always facing us. It was the Americans who crashed three of their Ranger spacecraft on the Moon to see what kind of craters they made. I was brought up in this era and there was a strong fear that the entire Moon was coated deep in dust which would have been a problem for landing manned spacecraft there.
It’s interesting seeing the comparison between the Americans with manned missions and the USSR with unmanned flights. When you consider that originally the Americans briefly considered a one-way manned trip before the reality of public opinion dawned, you would have to wonder at the Russians who never considered this. Although Harland doesn’t discuss any of this, after all this is a book about the Moon, it did make me think more about each country’s infra-structure and I suspect the USSR didn’t have enough companies to supply the necessary equipment in such a short time for a manned flight that far neither.
Going back to the Moon, I wasn’t aware just how ‘lumpy’ the gravity is there and not a consistent one-sixth. It’s also hardly surprising that crashing disused modules and other things into the Moon was the key way to discover what is under the surface and that our satellite lacks the massive liquid core our own planet does. Something I didn’t know was the Apollo 15 astronauts were the only ones to see the strata and thick levels of lava. Whatever the Moon has beneath its surface is well spent.
The analysis does tend to confirm that the Earth and the Moon were formed at the same time but not one from the other. There’s a fascinating picture on page 150 showing the known land territories before it was acknowledged that the Earth was spherical and the discovery of the Americas.
What did surprise me was the amount of thorium that is on the Moon. If you remember that the book ‘Super Fuel’ by Richard Martin I reviewed a couple years back for using thorium as a power source, there is surely enough of it there to make that practical there. By far, there is more interest in finding water at the polar caps to sustain life there. The information is promising because it was formed by collecting comet debris. I do have to wonder if using water that took several millennia to collect that we might be removing something irreplaceable. At the end of the book, there is also a look at India’s first lunar mission and the discovery of water at the equator.
One thing that did occur to me as I was reading this book is whether Haynes is going to do similar books for the rest of the planets. Some would be easier than others to fill a page quota but it is something to consider.
As with all of Haynes books, you are come away from it being well informed on the subject and with loads of photos and evidence to back it up. There is no exception to our Moon neither. Although I can understand purely from a financial perspective that it wouldn’t be practical to have a permanent moonbase, you would think even a temporary one would be set up to prepare for any Mars trip to test the equipment and how Man would tolerate isolation even that far away. I agree with Harland that the Moon is a stepping stone to any space-faring and the more we study it, the more compelling it will be for us to take further steps. A fascinating book.
(pub: Haynes. 172 page illustrated large hardback. Price: £22.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-85733-826-6)
check out website: www.haynes.co.uk