This week marks the 50th anniversary of Man’s first steps on the moon, and across the United States and around the world, organizations and media outlets are exploring creative ways to celebrate this monumental achievement. At the Smithsonian Libraries, we need only to look to items housed in our collections to capture the significance of the historic event.
Depending on the era and technology, the moon and its relationship to the earth has undergone numerous reinterpretations leading up to (and following) the moon landing in 1969. Depending on the religion, the moon was considered a celestial being—or at least the physical representation of one—and possessed numerous characteristics and names such as Mani, Khonsu, Chandra, Tsukuyomi, Selene/Luna, and Tēcciztēcatl. While the telescope was invented in the 1500s and study of the moon can be traced to Thales and Greek astronomers during the Archaic Age, the mythic nature of the moon (and its potential inhabitants) continued a topic of fascination amusement well into the 20th century.
Often, the precursor to discovery and innovation is imagination and the DeWitt Clinton Ramsey Room houses a rich range of collections and texts which capture the changing interpretations of the moon—leading up Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s first steps.
First appearing in 1785, Rudolf Erich Raspe’s Adventures of Baron Munchausen is a humorous collection of stories where the mentioned baron recounts his outlandish adventures. Among the stories is a tale where the baron flies to the moon in a ship. The 1883 copy housed in the Ramsey Room (Voyages et Adventures du Baron de Munchhausen) was translated from German to French and features rich illustrations by Gustav Dore.
In 1835, readers of the New York Sun fell victim to the Great Moon Hoax: a series of six articles written by Sun editor Richard Adams Locke, and purported to be by the famous astronomer, John Herschel. Through the articles, “Herschel” details his observations while exploring the moon—including the existence of man-bat creatures. Images of these fanciful creatures appear in Leopoldo Galluzzo’s Italian translation, Altre Scoverte Fatte nella Luna dal Sigr. Herschel. More information on the Moon Hoax can be found in a three-part blog series by the Smithsonian Libraries, and the online exhibit, “Fantastic Worlds.”
When exploring fantastic voyages to the moon, it’s important to acknowledge Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon. Originally published in 1865 as De la Terre a la Lune, the Ramsey Room houses the 1874 English version—translated by Louis Mercier and Eleanor Elizabeth King. In Verne’s story, the protagonist, Impey Barbicane, is accompanied by both his rival and a French poet in a moon-bound projectile launched by a massive space cannon. Elements of Locke’s Moon Hoax and Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon would appear the classic Georges Méliès film, A Trip to the Moon (1902).
Progress leading up to and following the Wright Brothers’ first flight sparked a new period in music, where songs and scores were written—romanticizing the promise of flight and future visits to the moon. The covers of sheet music found in the Bella C. Landauer Collection contain fanciful imagery to accompany the music and lyrics found within. Case in point is Clifford V. Baker’s “A Trip to the Moon” (1907)—which is completely unrelated to the Méliès film—except to say that it, too, is about a trip to the moon.
Commencing with the launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957 was the Space Race between Russia and the United States, and within 12 years, the United States would be preparing for the moon landing. The Ramsey Room contains a wealth of material documenting the rapid progress of the U.S. space program—leading to the Apollo missions. Among the many highlights from the collection are the Apollo Spacecraft News Reference guide and the Apollo 11 Technical Air-to Ground Voice Transcription.
Prepared by the Public Affairs Office of the Grumman Aerospace Corporation, the Apollo Spacecraft News Reference provides information on the Apollo mission, spacecraft module specs, equipment, propulsion and guidance systems, histories, and a glossary. Additionally, the guide features an optimistic vision of Man’s future on the moon, as viewed by Richard Hoagland:
The once barren lunar surface will be transformed; clusters of domes rising from the airless ground in places the names of which have rung through history: Copernicus, the Apennines, the northern shores of Mare Imbrium. Monorails, gleaming in the two-week sun, will flash silently along, ferrying passengers and freight from the Observatory to manufacturing complexes, from tourist centers to the spaceport…whole cities, peopled by the citizens of Luna, will grow beneath the surface of Selene.
Hoagland envisioned this all taking place by the year 2000.
Lastly, there is the Apollo 11 Transcription. Signed by Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins, the transcripts from the Apollo 11 moon landing—signed by Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins. Looking at the transcription was a gift to the NASM Library from James D. Taylor. Fueled by Armstrong himself, there has been some debate as to whether Armstrong said, “a man” or just “man.” While the transcription may not be the final word in the matter, it suggests the latter is the correct interpretation. (Readers will simply have to listen to the audio and form their own conclusions.)
While the special collections housed in the Ramsey Room are temporarily stored in an off-site location for maintenance, researchers may request an appointment to view material from the collection by contacting Chris Cottrill (email@example.com) or using firstname.lastname@example.org.