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The Moon by Oliver Morton

The Moon by Oliver Morton
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£20.00

There have been only six crewed landings on the Moon, with the last taking place in 1972, said James McConnachie in The Sunday Times. Since then, “the Moon has sat neglected in space like a dusty museum piece”. But as Oliver Morton shows in this “brilliant” book, we are on the brink of a new era of lunar exploration. And this time, he writes, it “will be undertaken by men and women from many more places, and with more agendas, than were in the American vanguard of 50 years ago”. One key difference is that tomorrow’s more fervent “lunarnauts” will be the “giants of private enterprise”, said Tim Radford in The Economist. The technology entrepreneur Elon Musk plans to offer the first paid-for lunar flyby in 2023; others intend to extract valuable materials from the lunar surface. Not only is this a “very good book about the Moon”, it is also refreshingly “different”. Even when covering familiar material, Morton finds a way to be original: for instance, he retells the story of the Apollo missions with “clever use of dialogue spoken on the Moon itself”.

As well as being a fascinating “Moon primer”, this is also, inevitably, a book about Earth, said Gerard DeGroot in The Times. For the Moon has long functioned as an “empty vessel” into which we pour our “ambitions and animosities”. That was true of the Apollo missions – which were always more of an expression of “Earth-based politics” than “Moon-based science” – and it is likely to be true of future voyages. Although Morton can’t find a single “rational” justification for returning to the Moon, he nonetheless “trembles with excitement” about the prospect of doing so. Like many others before him, he has fallen victim to the Moon’s “sirenic lure”.