The wonder of our nearest neighbor

An essay by Earth, Wind & Fire's Sheldon Reynolds
By | Published: October 10, 2011 | Last updated on May 18, 2023

One night while observing, my mom came up to me and asked, “How far away is the Moon?” She said she had always wanted to know, even as a child. With the telescope, I went on to show her mountain chains and craters on the lunar surface that looked so close she said it was like looking in on our next-door neighbor’s window. I then told her that if she had flown with the Apollo missions to the Moon at 25,000 mph (40,000 km/h), it would have taken her three or so days to reach our closest neighbor because it is more than 238,000 miles (383,000 kilometers) from Earth. I can remember that, at that moment, she looked back up at the Moon with a glow in her eyes as if she were remembering her first look at the Moon as a child.

Why are we so captivated by our closest neighbor? The answer could be scientific. The Moon plays a critical role in life existing on our blue planet. The two dance at just the right distance for both to stay relatively steady and not wobble out of control. Our seasonal changes are made smoother (most of the time) because of their mutual rotations. Though only 2,160 miles (3,476km) in diameter, the Moon carries enough gravitation pull to affect our oceans and some will argue our tectonics.

But our captivation might be something far simpler. The Moon is our first stop among the endless wonders above, so it awakens our childhood imagination. It creates what I like to call “Moon moments.” They often happen when the Moon first rises and looks bigger than when directly overhead due to an ancient Egyptian-inspired theory called “apparent distance,” or when we witness the Moon pass in front of the Sun during a solar eclipse. They can happen from stories of strange occurrences coinciding with a Full Moon, or simple comfort as the Moon’s ray of reflected light provides security to a child who’s afraid of the dark. In fact, the Moon can bring out a childlike wonder in even the most amazing people.

After responding to an online ad giving the public a chance to “ask an astronaut,” I became acquainted with Charles Pete Conrad, third man to walk on the Moon. After receiving my questions, he suggested we meet (his wife was a fan of Earth, Wind & Fire). Though short in height, he was larger than life each time we met as he would recount stories of his space missions. He spoke of anxious moments when Apollo 12 first lifted off and was hit by lightning, momentarily shutting everything down. Imagine sitting in a Volkswagen mounted on a 363-foot (111 meters) rocket suddenly thrusting upward at a radical speed when your steering and other controls suddenly go out! Luckily, as we know, the power came back on, and they made it to the Moon and back.

But his stories were more than just trials and tribulations. Not only was I in awe of Pete and all he experienced, but he himself seem to glow like a kid having a “Moon moment” as he spoke of all he and only 11 other men have done.

So on the next clear night, go out and experience your own moment with our lunar neighbor. Spend a night around Full Moon discovering what imaginative shapes you can find on its surface. Share memories of the Space Race with those too young to know. Ask your children what it would be like to live there one day. See how much detail you can make out on a crescent Moon as opposed to a Full Moon. Let the nearest satellite bring out the childlike wonder in us all.