The moon landing: an openDemocracy symposium

David Hayes
23 July 2009

When the Apollo 11 rocket landed on the moon on 20 July 1969, openDemocracy asked some of its contributors to offer their thoughts. At the time, we were still publishing on vellum. David Hayes tracks down the archives - now buried deep in a vault at a secret location somewhere in England - and transcribes a selection of our material from this landmark in history.

(This article was first publshed on 21 July 2009)


Carl Haiming, academic

The moonwalk is a grand, even a "cosmic" diversion from the epic struggles for liberation that mark our revolutionary age. From Vietnam to Cuba, from Northern Ireland to Palestine, the peoples of the world are attempting to break open its domination by the great superpowers. It is no accident that the arrival of the astronauts on the moon came soon after the revelations of the My Lai massacre. The United States can plant its flag on a distant desert, but the attempt to shore up its hegemony against the tides of history will inevitably fail.

David Hayes is deputy editor of openDemocracy

Also by David Hayes:

"The World Cup kaleidoscope" (30 May 2002)

"The media and openDemocracy: the garage tapes" (12 May 2006)

"The world's American election: a conversation" (4 November 2008)

Si Cypriac, adviser

A great engineering achievement. The computer age. We have lift-off. The machine is the message. More are coming. More powerful. Go further. Mars, Venus, Pluto. See what's out there. Report back. Space stations. Talk talk. Colonise. Zap over for the weekend. Command module, control panel, console engine - infinite potential. A better world in our grasp. By 2019, a world supercomputer. All our tomorrows in one. Input, output. No need for conflict, government, mess - just a few good men. End of history. Nirvana. The dream is on.

Stella Angelotti, critic

Ch'ang-o, Varuna, Kuu...the gods shed silent tears. In the imaginative caravanserai of traditions common to the west and the Orient alike, the night-voyagers across desert and ocean have looked up and been guided by a moon they have always seen as infused with multiple meanings and stories. In the light of these centuries of symbolic yearning and love - embodied in literature, poetry, folklore and drama - the all-too-human and prosaic "men on the moon" represent not an extension but a reduction of this universal interplay. The task now must be to move beyond the wound of appropriation and reclaim the majesty and richness of this eternal companion as it was meant to be - inviolate. I feel bereft.

Jacques Créteil, philosopher

A media event par excellence, a packaged spectacle for a soporific society of mass consumers. Amid all the drenching and mindless television and newspaper "coverage", it is well to recall that the moon landing did not take place.

Pol Underwood, theologian

This may seem to be a profound moment in the desacralisation of the earth. Yet I feel there is something noble and uplifiting in the effort. In the purity of this endeavour the creator of the universe is exalted not mocked. As the heavens enfold these brave men, the dust beneath their feet confirms the evanescence of the life they have found and will return to. In this very real yet numinous sense, the boundaries of the sacred have been extended.

Lynda Marner, feminist

This is lauded as a proud day for humanity. Between the claim and the reality falls the moonshadow - the more than half of the human race composed of women. For what comes over in the "space race" of our era is the suffusing maleness of the enterprise. It is not just the sea of faces and names - the scientists, the technicians, the astronauts themselves - that exclude this "other half". It is the veneration of the machine, of power, of force, of the conquering spirit. Is not the arrival of "humanity" on the moon - white, male, imperial, American humanity - a symbol of the penetrating instinct that is ruining our fragile planet and now threatens to spread the destruction to the heavens?

Keith Allways, political scientist

The cold war is being universalised. The ambition set by President Kennedy in 1962 has now been fulfilled. But this is a stage in the process not its completion. The huge funds spent on the Apollo venture are a guarantee that it will continue - to the moon and beyond. We can expect the Soviet Union too to expand its own programmes and seek to outflank its rival by landing on the moon's far side and perhaps setting up a permanent station. The search for manned flights to Mars and beyond will follow. This will take geopolitical-astrophysical competition into new realms. Other nations - France, Brazil, perhaps even by the mid-21st century China and India - will join the fray. The career opportunities for those with expertise in this "war of the worlds" will be bounteous.

Antonia Seabright, ecologist

I was never a supporter of space travel nor interested in the competition between the behemoths of Washington and Moscow as to which would first land on another planet. But in witnessing the image of the earth from space - this tiny green jewel, this vulnerable sphere amid a vast darkness - I am not ashamed to say that I cried.  The effect of the moon project has been to convince me that saving this earth, our common home, from all the damage we have done and continue to do to it - is the task of our time.

Mark Trevlyn, writer

Look at the deep family background of the leading players in this fabulous drama - mainly Scots, Welsh, Irish and of course Cornish. Do you notice anything? This is above all a Celtic triumph. Yet does the absurdly biased English media show recognition of this fact? Is Georges Pompidou a Frenchman? Surely the main lesson of the moon exploration is to take inspiration from our American cousins and raise the standard in our own lands. Today the moon -  tomorrow Melrose and Mousehole!

Phil Vyke, poet

The moon

shorn of its silver tassel,

its sheen of luminous delight

now seen in its true grey skin,

crust and diorite

vapid ejecta of aeons:

a desert

lifeless, cold, unwelcoming,


Come home, guys! The earth is where it's at

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