There’s moon stuff everywhere as we mark 50 years since humans first stepped on its surface. I’ve watched the documentaries and read the articles so it was time to head on one of the top exhibitions in London celebrating this moment. The National Maritime Museum’s The Moon caught my eye for its claim to be ‘the UK’s biggest exhibition dedicated to our celestial neighbour’!
The Moon gives us a chance to understand how the moon has been viewed, studied, mapped, been an inspiration for art and religion and finally a destination. The exhibition runs broadly chronologically and thematically and following that format here are some of my highlights.
Some fascinating old books show us how scientists over the centuries have puzzled at how the heavens worked and what this might mean for us on earth. This tome uses paper disks so that if the reader follows the instructions on the left to move the disks on the right hand page, they can calculate the movement of the planets, the moon and the sun and even predict the next eclipse! Not bad for 1540…
At a time before books, this tablet dates from 172 BCE and tells of the fears in Ancient Mesopotamia that an eclipse is an omen of evil forces that could threaten the king’s life. We are told of the rituals used to ward of this evil in the ancient cuneiform writing.
This Persian book dating from 1436 explains on this page how the moon’s phases are resulting from reflected sunlight whereas stars shine with their own light. Beautifully drawn.
This book particularly caught my eye due to its title, The Starry Messenger, as I went to see a play with this title on the London stage recently. Starring Matthew Broderick as an astronomer who teaches adults students but dreams of doing research. I had not known that the title comes from this book by Galileo from 1610. He shocked the world by suggesting the planets circle round the sun rather than round the earth as was believed at the time.
I rarely see the moon going through its phases as I live in a city and the skies are often cloudy, so it was fascinating to see that there are 8 phases and ‘gibbous’ appears in 2 of them!
A wall of moons is a clever way of visitors being able to track what stage the moon is at on the day of their visit. The wall goes right up to 31st and covers the 6 months of the rest of 2019.
Moons, especially crescent moons, are often found in art and religion and these photos show the crescent moon found on top of mosques – this is the East London Mosque. The left hand photo shows an Egyptian moon god with a full moon on a crescent shape headdress
Watching the phases of the moon pass through on the video on the wall was mesmerising so do stick with this link even if it takes a while to load: The Moon’s phases at NMM Greenwich
Representations of the moon in art are found throughout the exhibition and so many were delightful but mindful I were I was, this piece by Henry Pether of The Thames and Greenwich Hospital by Moonlight was one I stopped by for some time. Linking the naval traditions of Greenwich with its history of astronomy, this peaceful scene connects the moon and the sea quite beautifully.
As telescopes got stronger, the moon’s surface could be studied in more detail and this massive, full wall sized 25 piece work is staggering and when published was the most detailed map of the moon ever made. This is Hugh Wilkins’ 3rd edition published in 1951 and I was amazed to read he was an astronomer in his spare time and these maps were a life’s work – how proud he would have been to have his work in this exhibition. .
We move through this extensive exhibition into the sections about the space race when things really got going as Russia and the USA pushed technological boundaries to be the first in space and then the ultimate prize, to step on the moon. Great moon visuals are dotted all around the large, well presented rooms:
Another first was the first photograph of the dark side of the moon, taken in 1959 by an orbiting spacecraft. Therefore this was the first time humans had seen the hidden side of the moon and I feel an underrated moment.
Photos of the earth were another first, showing our beautiful blue planet. This ‘Earthrise’ photo taken in 1968 and helped kick-start the environmental movement by showing its, and therefore our, fragility in space.
The race to the moon advanced through the first cosmonaut, the first orbit, the first space walk and finally the event that led to this exhibition, the first step on the moon on 20th July 1969
Fake news claims were around even then and conspiracy theories that the landings were staged by the US government to beat the Russians. The Fortean Times pushes this idea along with ‘face on Mars’ and ‘front line phantoms’.
What about the British contribution? Tom Bacon developed this fuel cell electrode which produced electric power and the exhaust water was of drinkable quality. Bacon’s cell was much more efficient than any other available and President Nixon said ‘Tom, without you, we wouldn’t have gotten to the Moon. ‘ – wow!
The exploration of space has been great fodder for popular culture with films such 2001 A Space Odyssey and endless monsters such as this Harryhausen monster from The First Man on the Moon.
However, the human imagination didn’t need the extraordinary photos from space to inspire them. With spooky foresight, back in 1870, Jules Verne’s Around the Moon has a take off from Florida and a splash down in the Pacific.
The last sections of the exhibition asks whether and when we will return to the moon or go on to other planets. Will there be enough political will, money, incentive to make these momentous journeys in the future?
Throughout the exhibition yo will find fun interactive activities and this with the range of displays and information make this an engaging, informative and visually arresting exhibition.
As you leave, this evocative photo stays in your mind….
For more information about The Moon and the National Maritime Museum click here.
Full disclosure: I was invited to visit this exhibitoin by the National Maritime Museum as is customary in the travel industry. This has not influenced my review but I believe in transparency.