Apollo 11: One Small Step Towards Making Sci-fi a Reality

52 years ago today, Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the moon. But who was the first one to ever dream of this? Enter science fiction.

Book Culture On This Day Recommendations Science Fiction

52 years ago today, the Apollo 11 lander touched down on the moon’s surface. Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were aboard, while Michael Collins was orbiting above. Hours later, Neil Armstrong became the first person to ever walk on the moon.

But who was the first one to ever want to walk on the moon? Or dream of it? Or write a book about it? These people preceded Armstrong by years—some by centuries. Here are five such dreamers who wrote down their dreams of the moon in books.




The Man in the Moon by Francis Godwin

This book is perhaps one of the earliest science fiction novels ever. It was written by Francis Godwin somewhere around 1620 and published posthumously. A contemporary of Shakespeare’s, Godwin is an unusual kind of science fiction author: he was a bishop of England and a historian.

The story? Domingo Gonsales builds a flying machine and, upon testing it, is snagged by swans on their lunar migration. But don’t let moon-migrating swans deceive you, because Godwin actually ascribed to the most advanced view of the solar system in his day as well as the theory of gravity, so he was ahead of most people of his time. But being more than three centuries before the Apollo moon landing, he still had a way to go as far as scientific accuracy.



From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne 

Jules Verne is a 19th-century French author who wrote prolifically and pioneered the science fiction genre. In 1865, he published From the Earth to the Moon. In it, an American gun club builds a cannon to launch three men, including the gun club’s president, in a projectile to the moon. Verne carefully thought through how the math would need to work, the size the cannon would need to be, etc. Was he far off? Probably. But, mind you, he wrote this book 100 years before the Apollo program and even before aircraft existed, so he did pretty well. He’s certainly got a few centuries on swan-powered space travel.




The First men in the Moon by H.G. Wells 

English author H.G. Wells shares with Jules Verne and another the title of “Father of Science Fiction.” The fifth major piece Wells wrote is The First Men in the Moon, titled strangely and perhaps uncoincidentally close to Godwin’s novel. Published in 1901, the story is about a businessman and a physicist who build a space-faring ship out of antigravity metal. They use it, of course, to travel to the moon. Antigravity is still science fiction, although I may be more comfortable travelling to the moon with fiction rather than shot out of a cannon. But, then again, are rockets and cannons that different?




A Fall of Moondust By Arthur C. Clarke

Clarke is famous for co-writing the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, but before then, in 1961, he wrote the novel A Fall of Moondust. Notably, he published the book the same year the Apollo program started, though his book bears no resemblance to it. Why not? Because Clarke was forward thinking, as well as heavily involved in the space community. Science fiction itself is, in fact, always forward thinking. A Fall of Moondust is about a group of space tourists trying to survive the dangers of the moon. Getting to the moon was no longer of high importance for Clarke, for it was already within humanity’s grasp, but what humanity would do there was important, and what we will build.



The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein

Only three years before Apollo 11 in 1966, Robert A Heinlein, who was a pillar of science fiction in his era, wrote The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. Just like Clarke’s novel, this novel was forward-thinking for its time—and far more so than Clarke. He takes politics to the moon, but in a way far beyond the space race. There is a penal colony on the moon whose prisoners revolt, helped by an artificially intelligent computer.


Come 1969, Apollo 11, and Neil Armstrong’s historic spacewalk, science fiction was a little less fictional; humans reaching the moon was no longer a fantasy, but reality. Science fiction always goes far beyond, however, as with Clarke and Heinlein’s novels: even before science takes one step, sci-fi has taken another. To reach the end of science fiction—in other words, science catching up with science fiction—would mean the end of scientific innovation and/or its spark, human imagination, neither of which seem to be happening soon.

So, though science-fiction will never be fully fulfilled, parts of it can be un-fictionalized. Neil Armstrong, by taking one small step for a man and one giant leap for mankind, also took one small step towards making science fiction a reality.


Would you enjoy more science fiction discussions and recommendations? Check out some of my other articles!

What If: 3 Ways Sci-Fi Can Change Your Outlook on Life

On Artemis by Andy Weir

On Famous Men Who Never Lived by K Chess

On Severance by Ling Ma

5 Sci-Fi Novels from the 20th Century

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Francis Godwin Information via Wikipedia