A giant leap for mankind...

Dossier ~ Wednesday 1st July 2009
Explorers on the Moon (1954) - Page 35]

This month marks 40 years since man first set foot on the Moon, during the night of 20 July (European time) in 1969. Although the best person to tell the story of this wonderful adventure would certainly be Tintin himself, for the time being here are some anecdotes and facts about man's conquest of the Earth's solitary partner, beginning with Tintin's journey of course!

Funny-looking front covers...

On 30 March 1950, the Moon adventures began in earnest as the first pages of On a Marché sur la Lune (Explorers on the Moon) were published in Tintin magazine. When the story was printed in book format, the first part of the double bill was entitled Objectif Lune (Destination Moon). The strange thing was that the front covers of the two concurrent issues of 23 and 30 March 1950, looked nothing like Tintin's adventure as it developed over some 120 pages or so. These full-page drawings, exhibited at the Hergé Museum, look more like first drafts still at the initial concept stage. The style is more eccentric and less scientific in flavour, strongly reminiscent of stories by Jules Verne, for example From the Earth to the Moon (1965), and the film by Georges Méliès, A Trip to the Moon (1903). Generally however, to make sure that he was scientifically accurate in his work, Hergé was very glad to get advice and support from Professor Alexander Ananoff (1920  -  1992), author of the book L'Astronautique (1950), published by Arthème Fayard.

... and odd-sounding titles !

Before definitively choosing the titles of the two Moon adventures, Hergé considered: Operation Mammoth (alluding to the codename for Professor Calculus, used by his enemies), The Great Goodbye, The Rocket is not Responding, The Sprodj Controlled Zone, and Professor Calculus Acts the Goat. It's ironic that one of his serious choices, Destination Moon (Destination Lune in French), was abandoned as the title had already been used for the film Destination Moon by the American filmmaker George Pal. Later on, the English translators chose this title when the book was published by Methuen in 1959. Casterman publishers even suggested Tintin and the Atomic Rocket  -  energy sources and atomic bombs were hot topics in the early 1950s ! The Moon has always inspired titles of novels and scientific works. In the seventeenth century, the astronomer Johannes Kepler wrote the story of a young man's journey on the Moon, entitled simply The Moon. In 1657, Cyrano de Bergerac published, The Amusing Story of States and Empires on the Moon. Nevertheless, Russian Konstantin Tsiolkovski deserves credit for coming up with the idea of a rocket to be used for interplanetary travel, to which he made reference in Free Space (1883), a book which inspired pioneers of space travel such as Werner von Braun, the founder of the space programme at NASA.

The Space Race

Anyone who knows Tintin will know that his adventures on the Moon preceded the first space flight by some 7 years. It was on 4 October 1957 that a satellite weighing 83.6 kilos, named Sputnik, was put in orbit by the Soviet Union. This was followed on 3 November 1957 by Sputnik 2, which was carrying a dog named Laïka (meaning " barker " or " howler "), the first living being to be sent into orbit around the Earth. The was no scientific purpose in the sacrifice of Laïka : the unfortunate animal died 6 hours following the launch of the rocket, a victim of man's vanity, more precisely the space race that was underway between the United States and the Soviet Union... Laïka's fate is the subject of a graphic novel entitled Laika (2007), by the British writer Nick Abadzis, published by First Second. Mankind would have to wait another 12 years until 21 July 1969, to see an American astronaut take the first steps on our natural satellite, nearly 20 years after Tintin and Snowy !

Fiction or reality ?

The striking thing about Hergé's Moon adventures is the extraordinary amount of research that went into them, and the resulting quality of realism they display. Some people even believe that Tintin and Snowy really were the first to walk on the Moon ! Explorers on the Moon is so finely crafted that it gives the distinct impression of being a documentary. Therefore many people were not surprised to see Hergé's drawing of Tintin, Snowy and their friends, waiting to welcome Neil Armstrong as the first American astronaut set foot on the Moon in 1969. A little trivia: the drawings and lunar landscapes illustrated by the American Chesley Bonestell in Willy Ley's Conquest of the Moon (1953), inspired both Hergé and, eighteen years later, the renowned filmmaker Stanley Kubrick in his film 2001 : A Space Odyssey (1968). Great minds think alike !

Earth calling !

In Tintin's adventure The Shooting Star, scientists use a giant optical telescope to track a meteorite approaching the Earth. For the last 20 years, the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) institute has been using radio telescopes to scan space, hoping to hear alien radio signals, but before SETI began listening, man had already taken the initiative. In the second Moon adventure, during an impromptu space walk fuelled by whisky, Captain Haddock floats in space tweeting like a chaffinch. Although his methods were flawed, the idea was sound. In 1977, NASA included a " Golden Record " on board each of the two Voyager spacecraft launches. The record includes animal noises, various music and greetings in 55 languages. More recently, on 4 February 2008, a Beatles' song entitled Across the Universe was beamed into outer space. With all these tunes being broadcast to an alien audience, it's good to hear that the second man on the Moon, Buzz Aldrin, is " keeping it real " for fans on Earth. He has been recording a hip hop track (at 79 years old!) entitled Rocket Experience, commemorating the fortieth anniversary of his Moon visit. A quick sample : " I'm the spaceman, I'm the rocket man, it's time to venture far, let's take a trip to Mars, our destiny is in the stars." Yo! The track is produced by Quincy Jones and features rapper Snoop Dogg.

Four forgotten pages

Apollo 12
Apollo 12

In 1969, the French magazine Paris Match commissioned four pages of drawings from Studios Hergé, to explain space travel to the Moon. This little adventure was never published in any Tintin albums. Here it is for you to enjoy, as our way of saying Happy Holidays !

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