A major lunar landmark in its own right, The First Men in the Moon by H.G. Wells was first published in 1901. This fictional lunar voyage tells the story of Bedford, an Englishman who moved to the countryside for some peace and quiet while he writes a play, in an attempt to make it rich. He is interrupted by his loud neighbor, Mr. Cavor, who is developing “cavorite,” a new material that negates the force of gravity. While Bedford wants to exploit the money-making potential of cavorite, Mr. Cavor uses the material to build a spaceship, and persuades Bedford to embark on a journey to the Moon. At first, they land on what appears to be a desolate landscape, but after the Sun rises, the landscape is transformed. The Moon’s surface is filled with jungles and creatures, referred to as Selenites. The novel continues on to follow its two protagonists through their journey on the Moon and their desire to return back to Earth.
Nearly six decades after the publication of Wells’s novel, a real lunar voyage finally took place. On July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 was launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Aboard the spacecraft were three crew members: Neil A. Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” E. Aldrin Jr., and Michael Collins. After three days of travel, the astronauts entered into lunar orbit on July 19. On July 20, Armstrong and Aldrin detached from the command module in a lunar landing module, Eagle, which was used to make their final descent to the Moon’s surface. Shortly after they detached, Armstrong and Aldrin landed on a part of the Moon known as the Sea of Tranquility. Armstrong stepped off Eagle onto the Moon’s surface, becoming the first man on the Moon. Armstrong found the Moon to be covered in a fine, powdery dust, very much different from the Moon Bedford and Mr. Cavor landed on.
Pictured below are two of fifty-two pages of the transcription of the communication between Mission Control and the Apollo 11 crew held at the Rare Book & Manuscript Library. The first page details the moment leading up to Armstrong’s first step off the ladder. The second page begins with Armstrong’s announcement of his stepping off Eagle, followed by his famous line: “That’s one small step for man. One giant leap for mankind.”
In 2013, the Rare Book & Manuscript Library exhibited The First Men in the Moon and other lunar-related books in Life on the Moon: Scientific and Literary Reflections. The exhibit catalog is available online: https://www.ideals.illinois.edu/handle/2142/46462.