It has been half a century since man set foot on the moon, and today (21 July) marks the moment Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin actually left its surface following “one giant leap for mankind”, to return home with Michael Collins and share their unfathomable experiences with the world.
The lunar landing captured the imagination of some 600 million people (who avidly watched on their black-and-white televisions), but individuals have been exploring the wonders of the moon and stars long before the notion of space travel was even conceivable. Mark Holborn charts our quest to understand the worlds beyond our reach in his new book Sun and Moon, in which astronomy, photography and cartography come together to document everything from Neolithic observatories to jaw-dropping images seen through the Hubble Space Telescope.
“To be able to comprehend the surface of moon, or the wonders of the Eagle Nebula and the Whirlpool Galaxy, is something truly heavenly.”
Holborn marries history, sociology, art and science to unpick the ways that space has defined our existence here on Earth. He considers the pioneering studies that landed Galileo in hot water with the Inquisition; the “immediate planetary presence” of the sun and moon that made them the suitable subjects in early photography; the crucial development of nautical navigation enabled by the stars; as well as mythological and religious interpretations of celestial power, from ancient Egypt to modern Japan.
This all-encompassing view of our relationship with space is made all the more enjoyable by the rich visual material that has been amassed. We are presented with paintings by Johannes Vermeer and Rembrandt; astrological motifs in tapestry, manuscripts and ceramics; and swathes of photographs that document the hunger to understand space, from early telescopes to NASA campuses and equipment. However, the true gems are densely packed photographs that capture the wonders of our stars, made possible by rapidly changing technologies. To be able to comprehend the surface of moon, or the wonders of the Eagle Nebula and the Whirlpool Galaxy, is something truly heavenly.