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Explorers on the Moon completes the prophetic scientific Tintin adventure that begins with Destination Moon. Hergé was breaking new ground by sending his star characters into space. Although travelling into space has become normal, even routine, today, at the beginning of the 1950s such an idea was still science-fiction. It is important to remember that the story was published in 1954, while Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the Moon in 1969.
In the second part of Tintin's Moon adventure, the technical details that permeate the first part make way for a kind of space thriller. The lunar escapade is full of intrigue and surprises. Not far into the story the shocked crew of the mission discover that Thomson and Thompson have managed to hitch a ride to the Moon by accident; by the end engineer Frank Wolff is involved in a terrible twist in the tale. And there are plenty of unexpected events in between!
Throughout Explorers on the Moon Hergé dabbles in real science, giving us a taste of weightlessness in space and even going so far as to suggest that water exists under the Moon's surface. The reader follows the characters as they control the atomic motor and thrusters to navigate the rocket through space. This last two-part adventure (after the previous two-part stories Cigars of the Pharaoh and The Blue Lotus, The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham's Treasure, and The Seven Crystal Balls and Prisoners of the Sun, shows both what a good writer and a good artist Hergé was.
The creation of the Studios Hergé on 6 April 1950, allowed Hergé to delegate different kinds of work to assistants. The artist who would quickly become his right-hand man, Bob De Moor, joined the team on 6 March 1951.
De Moor worked on the Moon adventures, notably drawing elements of the Moon rocket, the launch pad and the Sprodj Atomic Research Centre, as well as space and Moon scenery. His contribution to the world of Tintin cannot be underestimated. You can read a bit more about De Moor in the Destination Moon article on this website.
Although much of the story takes place within the confines of the Moon rocket, Hergé has the talent to make the adventure as gripping as ever. He succeeds in evoking the heightened feelings of all those taking part in mankind's first mission to the Moon: the nervousness of the astronauts before launch, the conditions under which they land, the radio transmissions between the astronauts and their team on the ground, the intense emotions at the moment of stepping onto the surface of the Moon and the joy felt at that moment by those back on Earth.
In Greek mythology Adonis is a mortal in love with the Greek goddess Aphrodite. Adonis is also the name of the asteroid that Captain Haddock meets on his foolhardy jaunt in space.
Adonis, drawn by Bob De Moor, exerts a certain gravitational force on the drunken sailor and Haddock begins to circle the space rock, effectively becoming its satellite. This was a remarkable concept to draw into a comic book, considering that the first artifical Earth-orbiting satellite was not launched until several years after the story was published.
It is the big moment for Tintin and the team: the Moon landing has been successful; the moment has come for Tintin to be the first human being to see the incredible scenery on the Moon, from its surface. The brave reporter descends solemnly down the ladder on the outside of the rocket. He puts his foot (his right foot, unlike Armstrong, who led with his left in 1969) on the Moon, and takes a few steps.
Tintin speaks: "...For the first time in the history of mankind there is an explorer on the Moon!" Who would have guessed, reading the story in 1954, the words of Neil Armstrong 15 years later: "That's one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind."?
Professor Calculus sets the automatic pilot to land the rocket in the Hipparchus Crater. Hergé studied a lunar map and chose this spot, near the central meridian on the visible side of the Moon, as the perfect spot for the landing. The crater is named after the Greek mathematician and astronomer Hipparchus. Armstrong and his team would set down in the Sea of Tranquillity, located north of the Hipparchus Crater, in 1969.
Tintin's discovery of ice in an underground cave was later confirmed as a real possibility. The space probe Clementine (launched in 1994) mapped the surface of the Moon with sensitive radar equipment. After two years of data analysis NASA announced the possible discovery of ice on the Moon. The radar had detected a mass that looked like a frozen lake of about 5 km in diameter.
One of Hergé's strokes of genius was to draw Captain Haddock's whisky form spherical shapes under the effect of weightlessness. This happens because molecules of a liquid attract one another and create a certain force on the surface (surface tension).
This force works to minimize the total energy in any particular body of liquid and diminish the total surface to as small an area as possible. The smallest possible surface for any volume of material is a sphere.
Hergé loved to add comic elements to his stories! Thomson and Thompson come across their own footsteps in a similar gag to the tyre-track gag in Land of Black Gold; thanks to their absurd reasoning they believe that they have discovered evidence of other human beings on the Moon: "They (the tracks) can't be made by ONE of us: there are two sets of footsteps!"
Tintin and his friends wear spacesuits with transparent helmets. This was not a mistake made by Hergé; the author chose this option so that we can see the characters' faces and expressions. In real life the visors on space helmets are coated with special filters to protect astronauts from the intense rays of the Sun.
From the very beginning of the story the team has been aware of a problem with oxygen supplies: with the discovery of the Thom(p)sons on board the rocket, it has become apparent that there is not enough oxygen for everyone. Deep in regret over his treacherous actions later on, Frank Wolff is ready to make the ultimate sacrifice in an attempt to save his friends and assuage his guilt. When the story was first published Hergé was persuaded by the Church, against his wishes, to modify this part of the narrative to allow for the possibility of a miracle. Wolff's letter refers to the possibility that he might escape death, which dampens the suicidal tone.
La lettre d'adieu de Wolff laisse supposer qu'il pourrait même échapper à cette mort, pourtant inéluctable. On atténue ainsi la portée suicidaire de l'action. Et voilà Frank Wolff œuvrant pour une fin rédemptrice de son existence.