I am taking a break from my regularly scheduled sci-fi analysis content to take a look back at the Apollo 11 moon landing (or, more accurately, how it affected sci-fi) on this, the event’s 50th anniversary. Happy Birthday to those footsteps up there on the moon! Now, let’s take a look at the impact that the moon landing had for literature and for sci-fi. 

Early Moon Stories

Let’s first set the stage. A quick scan of very early literary works from all over the world tells us that humans have been dreaming (and writing) about the moon for as long as we’ve been telling stories. Why? To explore a fascination with the unknown. 

  • A True Story (AD 79) by Lucian of Samosata – A very early Moon story in which we merely observe aliens on the moon. Proof that we’ve been fascinated with aliens AND the Moon for millennia!
  • The Divine Comedy (1321) by Dante Alighieri – The moon is heaven! 
  • The Conquest of the Moon (1809) by Washington Irving – A satire about Native Americans in which Moonlings come to earth and enslave Earthlings.

Of course there were many, many more Moon stories that display the timeless fascination with the moon. What better way to get to the moon without actually going there? Stories of course! But you can only rely on stories for so long. It only makes sense that we’d eventually actually go there!

The Moon Landing

On July 16, 1969 astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins lifted off into space and headed for the Moon. Four days later, Armstrong took his and Humanity’s first steps on a foreign world. Millions watched their television screens and after a 1.25 second delay, heard those famous words. 

“That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Armstrong (left) and Aldrin (right) taking the first steps on the Moon. Credit: NASA

Post-Moon Landing Literature: It’s Complicated

It’s fair to say that modern sci-fi was heavily influenced by post-war society in the early 1900s. With that came the rise of technology and a rise of fear. The need for stories to replicate and explore those feelings and possibilities soared. 

However, after July of 1969, it’s hard to pinpoint any novels directly influenced by the moon landing alone. Reading summaries of sci-fi novels released throughout the 70s seems to reflect more heavily on impressions and reactions to the less-than successful Apollo 13 mission which occurred in 1970, less than a year after the Apollo 11 moon landing; emphasis on disaster in exploration and danger in space.

However, all hope is not lost. One bright light arose in the form of television, rather than literature. Star Trek provided a positive spin on space exploration – a world in which science was key and discovery was purpose. It was a beacon of hope for what was to come.

Legacy and Influence

We know that now, stories of space exploration and adventures are everywhere. Some depict disasters and others are hopeful. It’s clear that overall, the reality of possibility that arose from the Apollo 11 moon landing took its time but eventually seeped its way into society.

Blake Morrison puts it best in an article for The Guardian: “As kids we’re encouraged to believe impossible things of the moon – that it’s made of cheese or that there’s a man in it. But the space race changed the meaning of impossibility.” 

Now, we look beyond just literature. If we look back, it seems like the 70s dealt with the reality of mortality and very real consequences of missions-gone-wrong. Hope arose, however, in the 80s. Not just in the form of novels, but on our screens. The possibilities in adventure through science pushed out stories like Star WarsE.T.Back to the Future, and Aliens. We were finally remembering the first steps that the crew of Apollo 11 took in exploring more of the universe and it began to be reflected in 80s sci-fi; stories of adventure, hope, and perseverance.

Wherever I look, I see stories about humans launching themselves into the great void of space. Whether it’s a story about the moon or a story in which we go further, or even a story that emphasizes technological advancement,  the real moon landing fueled a fire in our hearts and told us that nothing is impossible. What is now a dream, a story, and wish can one day be reality. And I can’t wait for all those epic realities to arrive.  

This article was originally published here and cross posted on this blog.