National Geographic : 1969 Feb
of the moone; Who soweth them sooner, he soweth too soone," goes the old saw. Could the moon, with all its supposed in fluences on earthly life, have inhabitants of its own? Johannes Kepler, famed German astronomer of the early 17th century, thought so. He believed that the craters on the moon were artificial-that they had been made by whatever creatures lived there. And in 1835, a front-page story in the New York Sun told in detail how Sir John Herschel, son of Brit ain's Court Astronomer, had built a monstrous telescope 24 feet in diameter, and how he had seen through it lunarian men with wings like bats. An excited public learned later that it was all a journalist's hoax. But less than a century ago, William H. Pickering, the respected American selenogra pher, saw with his telescope variable spots in certain of the moon's craters that seemed to darken after the beginning of the lunar day and then wane just before the sun set, 14 earth days later. He speculated that these could be some low form of vegetation. He even thought he saw melting snow that could have provided water. Once I asked Dr. Eugene Shoemaker, then head of the Center of Astrogeology of the U. S. Geological Survey and one of the major experimenters in the Surveyor program (page 213), if there is the remotest chance of finding life on the moon. He burst out laughing. "Well, of course there are the lunar ele phants! We'll see those!" he said. He referred to a pompous 17th-century Englishman, Sir Paul Neal, who announced that he had discovered an elephant on the moon. The announcement created a tremen dous stir until-according to the story-peo ple found that all he had seen was a mouse that had crept into his telescope. Dr. Shoemaker added that "the moon is the kind of place where you would put things to sterilize them." Lacking atmosphere, it feels the full brunt of solar radiation, including deadly ultraviolet, X-rays, and gamma rays. No surface water exists to sustain life-on that scientists agree. Midday temperatures at the equator are hotter than boiling water; with the coming of the lunar night they plum met some 500° F. And the moon exists in an almost total vacuum (although it must be noted that some earthly spores have proved able to survive without oxygen or atmospheric pressure). So it is not hard to accept Dr. Shoe maker's estimate that the chances of native life-even microscopic life-are no better than one in ten billion. We may not be able to detect such life even if it is there. As Dr. Wilmot Hess, Director of Science at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, points out, "The suit worn by the Apollo astronauts leaks at the rate of roughly 1,000 micro-organisms a minute. So biological analysis of the moon becomes difficult. How do you separate your bugs from moon bugs?" But the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is taking no chances. When our astronauts return from their first moon landing, they and the samples they bring back will go into quarantine in special quarters in Houston-the astronauts for 21 days, the samples for a month or more. Even the Apollo Command Module, in which the astronauts have traveled home again, will be sealed in this Lunar Receiving Laboratory until experts are satisfied that no harmful lunar material exists to escape on earth. eople once thought that the surface of the moon was smooth and crystalline, that like a mirror it reflected the continents and seas of earth. Since Galileo's time, at least, we have known otherwise: The 14,650,000 square miles of moon are incredibly rough, a cosmic battlefield. Even a small telescope brings to view the startling, awesome moonscape which Galileo was first privileged to see, and which must have thrilled him beyond measure. It is a scene of unearthly wildness, of forbidding badlands, of desolate dark plains, of harsh shadows, set off by a sky of utter blackness. The dusky regions, given the Latin name maria because 17th-century astronomers thought they were seas, form the whimsical figures that men of every age have fancied. There's the man in the moon, with Mare Imbrium as his right eye, Mare Serenitatis and Mare Tranquillitatis as his left eye, and (Continued on page 214) 209 The bent and broken moon, All batter'd, black, as from a thousand battles... JOAQUIN MILLER, "INA"