The moon landing still offers hope in a world ruled by tiny minds | Suzanne Moore

As a child I was fascinated by the moon landings. But after once gazing at the stars, our leaders now only look inwards

‘I am very grateful that this wonderful event should happen in my lifetime. I was precisely 11 years, 0 months, 1 day old,” I wrote diligently in my moon scrapbook. I was obsessed with the moon landings, to put it mildly, collecting every newspaper clipping. I wrote “Man on the moon” on every surface. Scratching it on to my desk meant I got a clip round the ear.

No one else in my family understood it. It was yet another sign of my unbelonging. No one in Ipswich got the huge significance of it all the way I did, and I was made to go on a stupid school camping trip instead of watching it on television. Surely it was another sign that I was indeed an alien.

As I grew up – not much, let’s face it – my fascination continued. Those lyrics from Tom Waits’s Shore Leave get me every time: “And I wondered how the same moon outside over this Chinatown fair / could look down on Illinois / and find you there.” We all see that same moon and we are all made somehow both bigger and smaller by this knowledge. The ancients knew. And I did too. We could touch the sky.

Every snippet of information I could gather went into that scrapbook. The science of it? Well, I will leave that to those who know far more than me but, looking back, the risks Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins took strike me as enormous. They splashed down “upside down but they were quite all right”, I recorded nonchalantly. Having diligently cut out and glued articles about “space wives” into my book, I was overwhelmingly excited about “moon germs”. The idea of quarantine fascinated me.

Suzanne Moore’s moon scrapbook.
Suzanne Moore’s moon scrapbook. Photograph: Suzanne Moore

And moon rock. I badgered my mother, who could not afford it, to take me to London to see it. “The moon rock was given to distinguished scientists,” I wrote. “They were completely baffled.”

My huge excitement at a flag being planted on the moon (and then getting knocked over) subsided into a fixation with the astronauts themselves. “While the moon men were still in quarantine they were visited by President Nixon,” I recorded breathlessly. “More and more had to join them in quarantine – 24 in all, including a woman.”

Oh, 1969 – what optimism we had about the worlds to explore. Seeing Earth from space kickstarted the ecological revolution, not that I understood that at the time. Nor did I really understand the whole space race and colonialist aspects of it all. That would come to me later, as so much of my actual education did, through music. Through David Bowie, of course, and then the geopolitics expressed by the great Gil Scott-Heron. A year after the moon landings and the “giant leap for mankind”, Scott-Heron reminded us all of the hardship that black people faced in the US: “I can’t pay no doctor bill / (but Whitey’s on the moon) / Ten years from now I’ll be paying still / (while Whitey’s on the moon).” Half a century later, what has changed?

Others asked: why explore space when we can’t cure the common cold? Some artists reacted differently. A few years on, Sun Ra wrote Space Is the Place, in which he gets lost after a European tour and ends up on another planet, as you do, where he resettles African Americans. The transportation he uses is his actual music. This is mind-blowing Afrofuturism.

The moon landing still seems pregnant with possibility. When I stropped out of school at 16 and the teachers asked what was to become of me, I told them I would probably be an astronaut. I hate flying and am deeply unsporty, but never mind. Something had opened up. The exploration of inner and outer space have always been been connected for me. My heart skipped a beat when I saw a mosaic of Valentina Tereshkova on the subway in Tashkent this year – the first woman in space in 1963.

So, I choose to talk about this now in a world that stares inwards, full of smaller leaders with smaller ideas who think only of walls and fences and barriers, who police the parameters of our imagination and abilities. I say look up at the night sky, just as I did as a little girl. At that same moon. And wonder.


Suzanne Moore

The GuardianTramp

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