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One small step… How the National Maritime Museum will take us to the moon

photograph of astronaut walking on the moon

Astronaut Edwin Aldrin walks on lunar surface near leg of Lunar Module. Courtesy of NASA

The National Maritime Museum is planning a massive moon exhibition this summer…

The moon has long inspired artists and scientists alike – acting as a metaphor for the human condition in moonlit scenes by J.M.W. Turner and John Constable and inspiring NASA scientists to embark on the Apollo program and actually put an astronaut on the lunar surface.

And to celebrate 50 years since NASA’s Apollo 11 mission, which landed the first humans on the Moon, the National Maritime Museum (NMM) is grabbing the opportunity stage a major moon inspired exhibition which promises to be the UK’s biggest dedicated to Earth’s nearest celestial neighbour.

Opening on July 19 2019, The Moon will feature over 180 objects from national and international museums and private collections, and offer what the NMM promises will be a “cultural and scientific story of our relationship with the Moon over time and across civilisations”.

The exhibition will boldly explore how humans have used, understood and observed the Moon from Earth and offer visitors the chance to relive the momentous events of the Space Race and the Moon landings before discovering the motivations behind 21st century lunar missions.

photograph of figurine of deity with large orb on their head

Bronze figure of Iah inlaid silver eyes Hieroglyphic text round plinth naming Nebhor. © The Trustees of the British Museum

photograph of document in arabic showing the moon phases

‘The Principles of Astrology’, by Muhammad Al-Biruni, around 1000 CE (this version 1436 CE). © British Library

photograph of space rocket leaving launch tower

The Apollo 11 mission, the first manned lunar mission, launched from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Courtesy of NASA

Significant objects on display include Apollo mission artefacts that travelled to the Moon, loaned from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C.

The “Snoopy Cap” Communications Carrier, worn by astronaut Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin during Apollo 11 will be exhibited alongside the Hasselblad camera equipment that captured some of the most recognisable and iconic lunar images of the 20th century.

Lunar samples collected from NASA’s Apollo missions and the Soviet Union’s Luna programme, will also be on show accompanied by a rare lunar meteorite from the Natural History Museum’s collection together with “a diverse range of moon rocks” which will help visitors understand how researching these specimens continues to advance our understanding of the Moon.

Photograph of astronaut facing an american flag on the moon

Astronaut Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., lunar module pilot of the first lunar landing mission, poses for a photograph beside the deployed United States flag during Apollo 11. Courtesy of NASA

poster showing illustration of rocket heading upwards, with faces visible in the rocket

Soviet propaganda poster celebrating the first USSR multi-crewed space flight M Gordon Peace for the People 1964. © Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library

painting showing man reclining on the ground beside a ghostly woman sitting in a crescent moon

Endymion and Selene mid 19th by Victor-Florence Pollet. © Victoria and Albert Museum

Visitors will discover ways in which the Moon has been embedded in human culture, spiritually, practically and artistically, with scenes by Turner and Constable displayed alongside contemporary pieces by the likes of Katie Paterson, El Anatsui, Chris Ofili and Leonid Tishkov. Artworks by Cristina De Middel, Aleksandra Mir and Larissa Sansour, will also consider our relationship with the Moon through the lenses of gender and nationhood.

The exhibition will also probe the changing phases used to mark time in religion, navigation and medicine with the oldest object on display, a Mesopotamian Tablet from 172 BCE on loan from the British Museum, showing how lunar eclipses were considered to be bad omens.

Detailed Islamic and Chinese calendars highlight the continuing importance of using the Moon to set the date for key festivals such as Chinese New Year and Ramadan. Examples of historic medical texts, such as a 1708 pamphlet by the English Doctor Richard Mead will show how the position of the Moon was once believed to influence our physical and mental health.

illustration showing person with ladder trying to climb to the moon

William Blake, I want! I want!, published in The Sexes The Gates of Paradise, c.1820. © The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

photograph of group of women in white standing at the top of a large rock with an american flag in it

First Woman on the Moon by Aleksandra Mir, 1999. © Courtesy of the artist

New technologies, such as 17th century telescopes, 19th century cameras and remote equipment for space photography and mapping in the 20th century will be on hand to illustrate how we gained increased understanding of the lunar surface and the Moon’s origins.

A selection of maps, paintings, photographs, models and drawings from the 17th century to the present, will emphasise humanity’s continuing desire to understand more about the Moon. Examples include the earliest-known drawing of the lunar surface made from telescopic observations by British astronomer Thomas Harriot in 1609 and the detailed pastel drawings of the Moon by 18th century Royal Academician John Russell.

Referencing everything from classic science fiction through to the defining events of the Space Race, visitors will also see how the Moon went from being a distant object of observation and place of imagination to a destination that was within human reach. For fans of space exploration key moments within the Space Race will highlight how a number of Soviet ‘firsts’ were ultimately overshadowed by Neil Armstrong’s century-defining ‘one small step’ in July 1969.

image of frontispiece from book showing illustration of man and text

Titlepage & frontispiece to Nicholas Culpeper’s, ‘The English physician’. © Wellcome Collection

photograph of antique astronomical device

Astrolabe made by Muḥammad ibn Abī Bakr, 1221 CE (Inv. 48213). © History of Science Museum, University of Oxford

illustration showing wizard and another figure in cave with fire looking out to the moon

A wizard and his accomplice performing incantations in a forest during a full moon Etching by S Palmer and AH Palmer. © Wellcome Collection

Video artist Christian Stangl will show a new and exclusive version of his film ‘Lunar’, in which animated photographs from Apollo missions allow visitors to experience the Moon landings through the eyes of the astronauts. Apollo objects will sit alongside film posters, books, comics and magazines that celebrated and questioned these momentous events.

In 1969, the Apollo 11 astronauts left a plaque on the Moon claiming, ‘we came in peace for all mankind’. Through artefacts, artworks and interactive moments, the exhibition hopes to allow visitors to reconnect with the wonders of the Moon and discover how it has captivated and inspired us.

But the closing chapter will look at contemporary motivations for Moon travel, leaving visitors to contemplate whether the Moon will become a theatre for exploitation and competition or remain a peaceful place for all humankind.

illustration showing the phases of the moon

Transparent Diagram of the Phases of the Moon, James Reynolds (c.1846-1860). © National Maritime Museum, London

poster showing illustration of rocket heading towards space

Poster for the 1929 German silent film Frau im Mond. © Victoria and Albert Museum

photograph of the moon's surface

An image of the Moon taken by Royal Observatory Greenwich’s AMAT telescope. © National Maritime Museum, London

The Moon is on at the National Maritime Museum from July 19 2019 – January 5 2020. For more information, or to buy tickets, visit www.rmg.co.uk/moon50


The National Maritime Museum is the world’s largest maritime museum with 10 free galleries and a vast collection that spans artworks, maps and charts, memorabilia and thousands of other objects.

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