In the last week, however, I’ve made up for this. I’ve watched everything on TV and listened to everything on the radio. I’ve heard Neil Armstrong say his famous lines about a hundred thousand times. And it never stops being a thrill.
It’s also unspeakably sad. Fifty years ago today, two men climbed out of the smallest, flimsiest spacecraft imaginable onto the surface of an entirely new world. And after a few years, no one cared anymore. The whole adventure died. The expense, the lack of incentive, the overwhelming social problems on our home world – these are the usual reasons given for the cancellation of the moon programme.
But I think it was something rather more obvious: there’s nothing there. The moon is an annihilated desert. Its dust is so fine it’s like powder. It’s bleak and lifeless and utterly void. When it hangs in the sky, it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. It’s full moon glow; it’s glorious colours; it’s fading in and out of phase; it’s constant presence, so often hidden by cloud or buildings or lack of view. The moon is an inspiration.
Yet you wouldn’t really want to go there. Setting up a moon base is going to be a monumental challenge. That it will serve as practise for future missions to Mars is invaluable. But let’s face it – would you want to go to Mars? Equally inhospitable, life on Mars is just as it is on the Moon: non-existent and overwhelmingly dangerous to the flesh bodies of Earth. I’m wildly in favour of space exploration. It’s just that the ultimate results are so disappointing. There’s no life to be found. The history of these worlds is long gone, obliterated by ancient wars that no one remembers.
I wish quite often that we weren’t such a solitary world; that we had friendly neighbours or somewhere else to go in the solar system; that wasn’t all so cold and distant and flooded with vacuum. These thoughts – and others – led me to write Diamonds on the Moon. It’s fantastical and impossible, science fiction based on magic. Half way through, a very old astronaut turns up. I never name him but I wanted it to be Neil Armstrong. I wanted to give him something to go back to, something on the Moon more interesting than dust.
When it starts, it feels like a slight tale: something stirring on the moon, long after the last man has walked on its surface. I ended up by addressing something huge. It’s something I address often in my writing, but here it is a gift. From dust, the future, phoenix-like, rises, rather like the inevitable rise of the moon in our skies.
Diamonds on the Moon
Best Apollo 11 50th Anniversary adaption: Moon (BBC Radio 4)
Favourite Moon book: Moondust by Andrew Smith
Favourite Moon: Cold Moon (December)