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Why Does the Moon Fascinate Us?

Video Essay

As featured by National Geographic & The Atlantic



Adobe Premiere Pro, Adobe After Effects, Adobe Audition


Summer 2014


It began in during a car ride to the airport, staring at the moon out the passenger window, thinking: "That's a big rock floating in the sky." I couldn't get it out of my head, and started thinking about how important the moon has been to our culture. That's when I decided to make a short film exploring the moon's connection to ourselves and our culture.

I went to the library and took out Bernd Brunner's "Moon: A Brief History", which inspired much of this script. After writing the script, I recorded the voiceover, collected the Creative Commons footage, images, and music, and edited them all together in Premiere. I used After Effects to create some motion graphics and animated sequences.

This is a transcript of the video.

The moon.

It's there, in our skies all the time, circling us at speeds too slow to really notice, too far away to really take in its details, but close enough to feel just beyond reach.

The moon in our sky is constantly changing, yet, on its surface always staying the same. To us it's a paradox. The moon is the closest piece of our solar system, and our universe, beyond ourselves. It has ignited our imaginations for as long as we've had eyes to see it, and minds to wonder about its mysteries.

A beacon of the unknown, the moon is a flagpost of the beyond, the barren, and the desolate. But, does the moon still hold mysteries for us to contemplate?

We've taken photos from its surface. We've examined its elusive far side, and its gravitational pull and effect on our tides. We spent $25 billion dollars going to the moon in the 1960s, after JFK inspired the nation with a speech at Rice University:

John F. Kennedy: The great British explorer George Mallory who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said because it is there. Well space is there. And we're going to climb it. And the moon and the planets are there. And new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon, we choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard. Because that goal, for will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills. Because that challenge is one that we're willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win.

The moon is there. It's our stepping-stone to the distant, the only object in our skies, other than the sun, to show up as something other than a tiny point of light to the naked eye. It's a gigantic hunk of rock, floating gently over our heads too far to fully comprehend, yet close enough to feel an intimate bond.

For humans, the moon has always been there. Yet until this race to set foot on its surface in the 1960s, we'd only watched from a distance, as spectators to its majesty, limited by our optics, and our naked human eyes.

And in the 1960s we understood, that to go to infinity and beyond, we must first set foot on the moon.

Neil Armstrong: OK I'm going to step off the LEM now. That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.

It can really catch you off guard to find yourself staring up at the moon and contemplating its immensity and its history. Its importance to us and our culture, its materials and properties, its age and distance, and its connection to us, Earth, and humanity.

To have that epiphany that it's not just a two-dimensional facade, it's not just a painting, floating through the sky, it truly exists—it's really up there. And people have stood on that surface all those hundreds of thousands of kilometers away and stared back at us they bridged that distance - we bridged that distance—in a flying machine controlled by a computer less advanced than the one in your phone in your pocket; three human beings sent on a quest to a neighbouring world, armed with curiosity.

David Scott: Okay, Houston, as I stand out here in the wonders of the unknown at Hadley, I... sorta realize there's a fundamental truth to our nature. Man must explore. And this is exploration at its greatest.

In 1968, one year before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon, accompanied overhead by the oft-forgotten command module pilot Michael Collins, Apollo 8 went to the moon.

Frank Borman: I certainly wish that we could show you the Earth, it's a beautiful, beautiful view... with predominately blue background, and uh... just huge covers of white clouds... very very beautiful.

They didn't land on its surface but they slingshotted around it, going there and back again in one brief mission, a few days long.

They did bring something back from that mission, though. Something rather special, something unprecedented: A photograph.

William Anders: Oh my God look at that picture over there... there's the Earth comin' up, wow is that pretty.

Frank Borman: Hey, don't take that, it's not scheduled! [laughs]

Jim Lovell: Got it?

William Anders: Yep.

Lovell: Oh, I got it... Ohh, that's a beautiful shot."

Known to this day as one of the most iconic photographs of all time, and probably the most iconic photograph our planet in existence. Within this simple photograph of the earth rising over the lunar landscape there's a new perspective; one for so many millennia imagined by the thinkers of our home. For the first time in history we looked up and saw us.

In this one photograph we confirmed our planet's existence in space; a blue marble. A sphere of oceans and land masses, humans, and animals ecosystems & arctic poles, clouds and mountains, deserts, jungles, islands; pole to pole, us.

The photograph contains no visible humans yet every human in existence, and ever to exist before, except for the three behind the camera. All of that in a beautiful blue marble, floating, effortlessly, above a gray rocky barren lunar landscape.

It's overwhelming to think of the profound influence this photograph carries, and how in a way, it explains why we went there, and what we took home. we went there for the best photo op in the solar system, one might say, or one day read on a Billboard situated in lower-earth-orbit, while boarding a starbus to tour the moon.

In 1972, Apollo 17 took off from the moon's surface on last time. No humans have ever been back.

Perhaps there is no good reason to go back. We've been there now. We've taken home hundreds of pounds of its native rock, we've learned of our past, our planet, our relationship to this partner with which we perpetually waltz through space.

Perhaps we don't need to go back and to view its surface with our naked eyes is enough for us again. Maybe we don't wanna know anymore. Maybe part of us wants it to remain a mystery, waxing and waning overhead revealing its surface before shrouding itself in a shadowed cloak, and again, and again.

In 2009, NASA launched the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, the LRO, into orbit around the moon. And this LRO took a series of photographs of the lunar surface from a height of about 50 kilometers.

The photographs this orbiter took show the surface in unprecedented detail, and they reveal the landing sites of the various Apollo missions and clearly show the lunar landers even the flags of which all but one are still standing; the one planted by Apollo 11 was blown over during the ascender's take-off. Like abandoned campsites, we see the landers just as they were left those decades ago unchanged in a seemingly unchanging world. In a sense, the most impressively preserved exhibit of human endeavour, in the universe.

Soon after the photographs of the landers were released by NASA, the New York Times published an editorial called The Human Moon", in which they reflected:

It's a reminder of the risk we all felt after the eagle has landed, that a photograph like this one is as close as we're able to come to looking directly back into the human past. There the lunar module sits. Parked just where it landed forty years ago.

These photographs certainly do offer a glimpse into a moment in history left intact for decades; the same today as it was when we last left the lunar surface in 1972. But going back way further than that the moon tells us one more of its secrets.

The moon is believed to have formed shortly after the formation of Earth, during an active, chaotic, and turbulent period in our solar system.

This being as long ago as it is, 4.5 billion years, there's some speculation and hypothesis as to its true origin story. But the most widely accepted theory is that the moon is a piece of debris from an impact between young Earth and another planetary body roughly the size of Mars, called "Theia"—named after the mother of the Greek moon goddess "Selene".

If this is true, if the moon really is just a fragment of earth from a massive collision billions of years ago, then it really is a piece of us. When we look up at that barren landscape, we're looking into the Earthly past. Not only the past few decades and a retrospective of the early space race, but far farther back than that. A portrait of the young Earth and our turbulent roots, the chaotic collisions of planetary birth, and the fragility of our trajectories.

There's a certain closeness and kinship in the distance of the moon. We share a fundamental partnership, like an electron and a hydrogen atom—seemingly intertwined by definition. For what would our world be without the moon in our skies? To wax and wane, to trim the tides, to mark our calendars and inspire our art, to light our nights in anchor our place in space.

And when we look up at that moon, glowing above us, lighting our night skies and perching in the blue of day, we must keep in mind that we are looking at ourselves in many more ways than one.