"Fly Me to the Moon” Guest Andrew Chaikin on the Moon and the Museum main content.

Andrew Chaikin on the "crown jewel" of the solar system, the Moon.

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The Rose Center for Earth and Space. © AMNH/D. Finnin.
© AMNH/D. Finnin.

With the conclusion of NASA’s shuttle program and the upcoming launch of the latest Mars rover, the future of space exploration is once again a hot topic—and humans’ first steps on the Moon are all the more important to revisit.

Apollo historian Andrew Chaikin spoke with us about his passion for space exploration.

You spent years interviewing the Apollo astronauts for your book A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts. What are some of the lessons of the Apollo missions?

In some ways, the most important lesson from Apollo is that when we tackle the difficult challenges of exploration, we reap unanticipated benefits. One of those benefits is heightened awareness. The astronauts who went to the Moon found that it was the Earth that made the greatest impression on them, with its spectacular beauty and inexplicable sense of fragility. Through their eyes, we can see our planet as a world to be protected and cherished. It’s no surprise that Apollo jump-started the environmental movement in this country.

You grew up in the New York area and often visited the Hayden Planetarium as a child. How did this influence your interest in space?

I was five when my mom took me to the Hayden Planetarium for the first time, for the Christmas sky show in 1961. She says that while we were standing in line, I was pointing at the model solar system above us and lecturing the other people in line about the important features of each planet. From then on, the Hayden and the dinosaur exhibits at the Museum were my home away from home.

What do you think are the next steps for humans on the Moon, and what out-of-this-world technologies do you want to see there next?

What I feel about the Moon is that it is the Rodney Dangerfield of the solar system—it doesn’t get enough respect. There’s a misperception in the space community that going to the Moon with people is somehow “been there, done that,” but that’s just not correct. We barely scratched the surface of what the Moon has to tell us about the earliest history of the solar system, which is better preserved there than anywhere else. It’s also the only place where you can stand and look up at the Earth as a planet, in all its breathtaking beauty. And the astronauts say that it is one of the most spectacular landscapes anyone has ever seen. In many ways, the Moon is the solar system’s crown jewel. So I’ll be happy just to see us go back to the Moon and pick up where Apollo left off.