July 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing when astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to step onto the lunar surface. The moon has been an object of fascination to people for centuries, and Winston Churchill was no exception. This featured document carries an article written by Churchill and published by the Sunday Dispatch on 8th March 1942, entitled ‘Are there Men on the Moon?’
The first draft of this article dates back to 1939, and may have been inspired by H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds published in 1898. In this document, Churchill ponders whether life does or could exist elsewhere in the Universe. He considers the possibility of alien life within the confines of ‘life as we know it’, focusing on the importance of water, temperature and gravity. He thereby rules out the possibility on the outer planets of our solar system or ‘the small fragmentary planets called the asteroids’, but declares it more likely on Mars or Venus as Earth’s closest neighbours. He hypothesizes that the infinite nature of the universe, with its many stars, solar systems and galaxies, means that ‘the odds are so enormous that there must be…planets whose circumstances would not render life impossible’.
Churchill also considers the potential for man to travel through space, acknowledging that scientific advances have been such that he would not rule out the potential for man to travel to the moon, Mars or Venus in the foreseeable future. This prediction of course becomes true a mere 27 years later. However, he notes that the immense distances between our own planet and the next stars mean that ‘our chance of exploring the hypothetical planets surrounding other stars is so remote as to be negligible’.
This article is remarkably scientific, reflecting on gravity, molecules and the practicalities of inter-galactic travel. Defining what life is, considering the necessary elements and speculating about hypothetical planets and lifeforms, Churchill had clearly thought long about the possibility of extra-terrestrial life, perhaps spurred on by H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. His interest was mirrored by other 20th century leaders including Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, as well as the general public. This preoccupation with alien life and inter-galactic travel became a central theme of the late 20th century with the Cold War, the space race and the long anticipated moon landing on 20th July 1969.