The Ghosts of Luna
by Ian Watson

In 1972 the Apollo flights ceased.

In 2022, on the fiftieth anniversary of the abandonment of the Moon, the Japanese unexpectedly sent a one man expedition to the Sea of Tranquillity. It seemed like a curious anachronistic gesture at the time, and the world's media were frankly amused. But then the Japanese had always had this thing about anniversaries. No doubt you remember how they re-bombed Pearl Harbour on December 7th 1991, with millions of bright red paper fans. How they descended on Oahu like a plague of butterflies!

So off to Tranquillity went Taro Kawasaki, representing the Dai-Nippon Engineering Company - and what should he find but the first two Ghosts.

The world's media abruptly became respectful.

For there they were in the Sea of Tranquillity, bouncing around the descent stage of their LEM in lunar slow motion, like nothing so much as a couple of faded old action photos by Thomas Eakins of human bodies in motion: stiff, white forms silhouetted against blackest night, leaping and landing and flexing their legs before leaping again. Armstrong and Aldrin no less. Or at least their ghosts.

Needless to say they weren't nude like Eakins' sprightly youths. That would have been lese majeste, not to mention damn chilly even for a ghost out in the lunar vacuum. They were properly suited up for Extra-Vehicular Activity.

To begin with Kawasaki suspected that a bad joke had been perpetrated on himself and his company by the United States, resentful at having lost its traditional trade markets in Mexico and Canada to Japanese buisness (as he later confided in his best selling memoir, Tsuki-no-kamikaze, "The Divine Wind on the Moon"). Could the whole phenomenon be a plant? A couple of clowns secretly landed just over the lunar horizon to prance around this solemn, anniversary-conscious oriental, as he ran up the Rising Sun flag? (Though what Yankee clipper they could have sailed in was a mystery indeed!)

Maybe the Americans had achieved an electronics breakthrough of unparalleled dimensions in the projection of three dimensional images to an exact spacial co-ordinate over a distance of a quarter of a million miles? And this was their callous, newsgrabbing way of unveiling the invention? But it did not take Kawasaki long to dismiss that notion, from what he remembered of American R&D.

And when the Armstrong ghost bounded up to the Japanese and passed right through him, occasioning a sudden discomfort, best described as a chill in his lower abdomen, its ghosthood was abundantly apparent.

Thereafter Kawasaki had his work cut out; not to mention pre-empting news time on world TV networks beyond his wildest dreams. Urgent scrutiny of cameras. Spectroscopes. Radar. X-ray machines. All the other gadgets Dai-Nippon had sent up to Tranquillity.

Radio queries provoked no response from the ghosts. Film and TV registered their presence. X-rays ignored them. Radar condescended to be mildly disturbed - as though by a few wild goose echos, when geared up for the solider blip of an airliner.

For the most part the Ghosts bounced around in a fairly repetitive way looking like a couple of rubbery refrigerators. Occasionally they disappeared. Reappeared. Kawasaki patiently recorded everything.

The big question back home on Earth, meanwhile: was there any ghostly Armstrong consciousness, and Aldrin conciousness, fastened away inside those gallumphing ghosts of space suits?

Historians recalled the odd behavior of the original astronauts. Their nervous breakdowns. Religious conversions. Franchising of hot dog restaurants. And the comments of Conrad and Bean. "I never dreamt on the Moon," Bean said of his sleep in a hammock slung in the LEM. "I never dreamt either," Conrad had dutifully echoed him. But every human being had dreams, that's no psychological secret, you only have to watch the rapid eye movements. Had the astronauts' subconscious been siphoned out, by some mysterious process, to take on this ghost animation? Had they left some essential fraction of their egos behind on the Moon?

The ecology groups prayed that the Madness, as they put it, would not start up again. But alas for their protests, the imagination of America was rekindled. The second phase of the lunar adventure was soon on. The Vehicle Assembly Building at the Cape was demothballed. Congress voted funds. The great rockets flew again, burning up their billion gallons of fuel. And America went back to the Moon, commencing 2023, to Tranquillity, Fra Mauro, Hadley-Appennines, Cayley-Descartes, Taurus-Littrow, to gape at these curious reflections of its past.

Oh, but imagination was rekindled, as imagination never had been fired since that first blurred footstep in the lunar soil, that first incouciant, childishly clumsy tumble into the moon sands.

America had an authentic spiritual mystery on her hands, not to mention the strangest set of mini Mount Rushmore statuettes, deep in outer space.

We'll leave Taro Kawasaki to his moment of glorious discovery in the Sea of Tranquillity, and move on a few years to the present, when all the sights have been revisited by Americans; and we'll try to come to terms with the physical - and metaphysical - problems posed by the Ghosts of Luna.

One major trouble is that Kawasaki left no ghost of himself behind on the lunar surface for the second American Tranquillity expedition to find.

So was there something physically unique about conditions in the late Sixties and early Seventies of the last century?

Or did it take a certain amount of time before the "Ghost Image" could develop?

Or was it the case that only Americans could plant a ghost? That a Japanese being Shintoist, not Christian, were denied this privilege of a seperable soul?

(The latter type of speculation was obviously unscientific, not to say insulting - but some WASPs seriously suggested it.)

The two most elegant physical explanations - coming near to scooping Nobel prizes for sheer chutzpah if nothing else - were Kampeier's "macroparticle theory", and Ogilvie's "solar camera" idea.

Rudolf Kampeier decided that the ghosts were "quasi-particles of discrete vacuum". Particles are generally thought of as intensely small parcels of matter - protons, electrons, etc. But why couldn't there be a few giant particles as well, obeying the same laws of quantum mechanics? Particles that could "exist and not exist", simultaneously, as bundles of void?

Their origin? Well, during that earlier half decade of lunar exploration in the Twentieth Century, the flux of neutrinos coming out of the Sun was particularly low - incompatible with the nuclear processes supposed to be going on inside the Sun. Scientists working three thousand feet down in the Homestake Mine underneath Lead, South Dakota, detecting neutrinos in their tank of cleaning fluid, couldn't explain it. Unless (scary thought) the solar gases were about to stir themselves up, with a dramatic outpouring of radiations. Suppose, theorised Kampeier, during that slack period last century the neutrino flux had been "topped up" by the emission of a few giant neutrino like particles from the Sun (the neutrino flux actually picked up during the 1980s, without any terrible side-effects) - particles whose sheer size caused them to fall into an "entropy sink" as soon as they hit the Moon. The Moon's geological configuration had been mapped to a depth of 1.25 kilometers by the orbiting command module of Apollo 17. Sheer structural topology might produce such quirky effects as Kawasaki found, suggested Kampeier.

Why do we percieve these particles as ghosts of astronauts? A conceptual illusion, smiled Kampeier (yes you can smile, even in a mathematical equation). We have to see something - so we see what makes sense to our brains.

Ivar Ogilvie's "solar camera" theory, on the other hand posits a curious Sun-Moon relationship, whereby the the Sun functions as a lens to the Moon's photographic plate. Again, topology plays a part in the argument, only now it's the topology of the Sun - the patterns of sunspots, the corresponding photon patterns arriving at the Moon's surface, where they corresponded fortuitously with the motions of the Moon men, setting up a series of standing waves, still visible.

Could our astronauts ever have suspected mused Ogilvie, that the sun was watching them in the manner of a giant eyeball? That it was a Polyphemus? They were our brave Ulysses, after all.

But these theories don't explain the ghosts fully to my satisfaction. Nor do the astrological horoscopes. Nor do the ectoplasmic fantasies of the "Forest Lawners".

I'm not ashamed to say I'm a poet. An astrophysicist of feeling. I chart galaxies of Beauty, Sentiment and Love.

I capitalise these words as I don't want to slip in concepts such as Love and Beauty as if I took them for granted. That would be an arrogant assumption in today's world. I realise that, paradoxically, Love and Beauty are so much the rage, in a diluted, predigested saccharine form, that the things themselves have lost all their old integrity, save for a few benighted, maverick poets such as myself, who feed on illusions - as in Chinese legend the tapir is said to be an animal that feeds on dreams.

Topology of the lunar rocks or of the Sun's gases may be the scientist's province. But topology of dreams is the poet's province.

How did William Shakespeare phrase it? "To give to airy nothings a local habitation and a place." Organise the internal shape of dreams so that they stand up un their own. And, correct, bounce about.

The Moon Herself: Selene, Ch'ang-o, Mama Qilla, Juno, Tsukiyomo - whatever name she travels by - she was the Dreamer; she was the Photographer.

For a billion years she courted the earth with tide caresses. Could the tug of her gravity have been the cause of evolution in the first place? By stirring up the amniotic seas? Tossing the right sequence of amino acids together? So that she could in time concieve her own lover: a mind that could spin poetry for her?

She had hung in her white castle, waiting a billion years to be ridden out to chivalrously. Hopefully she had waited through Greek and Roman times, casting her beams down on the Earth - fluttering her eyelashes. When the court of Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine had discovered Courtly love, her heart skipped a beat. When the first ranger probe plunged into her side, it was like a lance being splintered at a tournament in her honour.

Then, at long last, they came: the Twelve.

And what were they? Nothing but emotional buffoons! Not courtiers, but court jesters. Camelot had promised to send knights: and sent a pack of commoners instead. Who had no dreams. Who turned everything they touched into lead.

The comparisons of the Apollo Moon shots to sexual ejaculations was no misconception. The Moon is a beautiful, sexy lady. America ejaculated in the right direction with those tall slim rockets, from '69 through '72. But, with all due apologies to the shades of Masters and Johnson, humanity's representatives lacked the style to carry on a celestial love affair.

You can't say Luna didn't try. She waited a billion years. Then treasured her frigid lovers' every step, like the stone footprints outside Grauman's Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard - that other locus of frozen, solidified romance. She kept their images intact, a dozen dusty billet doux.

Yet the parting shot of her twelfth lover, as that last ascent stage blasted off like a child's spinning top into space! Can you imagine more callous words, to break off a love affair?


It was the last straw. It brought tears to her eyes. That twelfth spacemans' ghost is faint and blurred, at Taurus-Littrow. And not surprising.

She didn't bother with Taro Kawasaki. Or with anyone subsequently. The insulted mistress retreated into her memories. Leaving Love as a dozen, absurd, bouncing ghosts of an illusion.

Do we really need to gape at the images of our emotional inadequacy, as if they're some fine monument?

Couldn't we exercise a little tact and leave the wounds to heal?

She'll heal in a few million years.

When we've faded.