In Tom Stoppard's Jumpers, Dorothy Moore - a retired music-hall chanteuse and the wife of a moral philosopher called George Moore - is going dotty in her bedroom. The precipitating cause is a televised fight between the first two astronauts to land on the Moon about who gets to go back home on a damaged lunar ascent module that can carry only one. Astronaut Scott shoves Astronaut Oates off the steps of the module - 'I am going up now. I may be gone for some time' - and blasts off. For Dorothy, this is the end of all romance ('Goodbye spoony Juney Moon'): the men are unworthy of the Moon. Opening in January 1972 at the Old Vic, Jumpers came two and a half years after the Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men on the Moon and less than a year before the Apollo 17 astronauts Jack Schmitt and Gene Cernan became the last. Between July 1969 and December 1972, 21 astronauts left on Apollo missions to put men on the Moon; 12 actually walked on the lunar surface, of whom nine are still alive. Each mission was made up of three men, one of whom remained in the command module orbiting the Moon while the other two travelled down 'the extra 60 miles'. Amazingly, since some of these astronauts seem privately to have estimated their chances of survival at only about 50-70 per cent, none of them died during a Moon-landing mission, though Apollo 1 took the lives of three men on the launch-pad and Apollo 13 barely made it back after having to abort an attempt at landing. Hard-to-interpret Chinese ambitions apart, there are no active plans for further lunar landings, and so, more than thirty years on, these nine men are the only ones left who can say what it was like to stand on another celestial body and look at Earth.
LRB 1 September 2005 | PDF Download