The James Clayton Column: Why we’ve never gone back to the Moon – the truth

With Apollo 18 offering up a horror experience on the Moon, James explores other possible reasons why visits to our nearest neighbour have ceased…

Recent release Apollo 18 is a horror movie set on the Moon. Even if the whole basis of the film being leaked footage from a secret mission is bogus, the concept is brilliant. Whoever decided to pick the Earth’s sole satellite as the setting for their scary story deserves a gold star and a Milky Bar for this stroke of inspired genius.

Indeed, the Big Black beyond the stratosphere is anxiety-inducing as an infinite unknown with terrifying potential. As the Alien poster put it, “In space, no one can hear you scream” so the void is the perfect backdrop on which to build a sci-fi chiller.

With it being Earth’s nearest neighbour rather than a far-flung or fictional destination, the Moon feels more real and relevant, but simultaneously, retains an enigmatic sense of being an unnerving, alien world. Every evening, the eerie silver orb hangs silently in the sky, turning the tides, watching over our nightmares and casting ethereal beams over the darkness and the things that dare not show themselves in daylight. Look at the Cheshire Cat crescent grin in the sky, and you’ll see that the Moon is incredibly creepy.

It makes me wonder why there haven’t been more horror films set there. Imagine, for example, how great it would have been if Stanley Kubrick had channelled 2001: A Space Odyssey into The Shining and sent Jack Torrance crazy in space. Likewise, picture The Evil Dead on the Moon, or The Lunar Chainsaw Massacre. If there are going to be no more manned missions to the orb, the least that filmmakers can do is visit the Moon more often in the movies they produce, and adopt it as horror cinema’s prime location.

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Moving away from the multiplex to the real non-fictional world, it looks like no one’s going to be setting foot on the Moon anymore. Lunar landings, once the dream of the future, will now be a thing of the past, as NASA puts its shuttles in a hangar or sells them on the black market to reclusive collectors who employ shady goons that look like Pete Postlethwaite to conduct their business transactions.

Why is this so? Apollo 18 claims it has the answer, and through its tagline, “There’s a reason we’ve never gone back to the Moon”, boasts that the horrors contained in the faux-found footage are that reason.Of course, it being a Hollywood film, it’s simplifying things somewhat. When you’re dealing with something as epic, ambitious and complex as space travel a huge number of different factors come into play.

You don’t just say “okay, no more lunar missions from now on. That’s all, folks!” because of one bad trip in which a trio of expendable astronauts got spooked out. The truth is that there haven’t been any more Moon landings for a multitude of reasons and so, for the sake of full accuracy and clarity, here they are…

Frightening flying cow threat

Remember the nursery rhyme legend that featured a laughing dog, a feline violinist and a dish and spoon who eloped in order to live out a romance in the style of Bonnie & Clyde or Wild At Heart? That fable also featured a cow that jumped over the Moon, though how the heifer achieved this feat, and why they even attempted it is unknown. It probably involved Flubber, an Unobtainium-enforced catapult or copious amounts of drugs.

The cow was never heard of again, which is cause for concern for Earth’s space exploration experts. The risks of running into a spacey case of Mad Cow Disease and the prospect of having your shuttle windscreen smashed by a colossal monster moo-beast are too much to bear for the majority of would-be cosmonauts.

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No cheese please

Perhaps the cow hopped beyond the stratosphere because it felt special cultural affinity with the core material in the Moon’s composition. Though school textbooks and science teachers deny the indisputable truth that the orb is a floating dairy product, we all know that the Moon is made of cheese.

Popular pressure from private industry (damn you Dairylea! Blast you Babybel!), and worries over rising obesity levels have worked against initiatives to explore extraterrestrial territories with a higher-saturated fat value. Concern over cholesterol levels, here, has triumphed over the spirit of conquest and curiosity.

Domestic appliance disturbance

Space travel is fraught with the dangers of renegade artificial intelligence and appliances (think HAL). The resident tech-threat on the Moon may be more humble in nature but is nevertheless still a deadly domestic terror. As illustrated by Wallace & Gromit’s A Grand Day Out, lunar trippers must beware the crazed coin-op oven that skis the cheese mountains, eager to unleash psychotic carnage and sabotage on unsuspecting visitors.

Insufferable solitude and psychological breakdown risks

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Scientists are now more sensitive to the psychological needs and wellbeing of space-bound travellers, and have compassionate concerns about exposing astronauts to lengthy isolation, the uncanny environment and computer equipment that sounds like Kevin Spacey. You’ve seen how Sam Rockwell suffered in Moon.

Do you really want to see more men go through that kind of grief totally alone, hundreds of thousands of miles away from the planet they consider to be their home?

NASA’s werewolf worries

When several young members of NASA’s staff started howling and sprouting claws and whiskers during pre-lunar launch slideshows in the early 80s, the organisation got suspicious. Apprehensions about optimum full moon exposure, and an astro-werewolf publicity scandal linger, just in case the rumoured lycanthrope curse really did sweep the dorm rooms of Cape Canaveral’s bootcamp after a group hiking trip to the Yorkshire dales.

Surreal Michael Jackson freakout fears

It starts with a bit of well-intentioned moonwalking, and next thing you know, you’re completely disconnected from reality and living an insanely opulent popstar lifestyle of excessive plastic surgery, pet chimps and Peter Pan fantasy. Moonwalking is a dangerous addiction that leads to Michael Jackson metamorphosis and, inevitably, a tragic end. Unless future missions ensure that astronauts only hover above ground and never step on the Moon’s surface, moonwalker mania is a present peril.

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 “That’s no Moon…”

In truth, our sole satellite surrendered itself to the Dark Side in the late 70s. It has since ceased to be a lump of celestial rock and is now actually an Imperial space station. The “ultimate weapon in the galaxy” is now also fully operational, and we could suffer the same fate as Alderaan at any moment. Help us, Obi Wan Kenobi. You’re our only hope…

James’ previous column can be found here.

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