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Of Water and Winged Men: Living on the Moon in 2009 and 1835

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2009: Last month, NASA scientists crashed a bus-sized satellite into the surface of the moon. On November 13th, they announced that they had found water. As the New York Times reported, "The confirmation of scientists' suspicions is welcome news to explorers who might set up home on the lunar surface." In an editorial for the Times one week later, William S. Marshall, a staff scientist with the Universities Space Research Association, encouraged readers to imagine "a habitat atop a hill in warm sunlight on the edge of a crater near the south pole of the Moon...Humans live in sealed, cave-like lava tubes, protected from solar flares and sustained by large surface greenhouses. Imagine the Moon as the first self-sustainable human settlement away from Earth and a high-speed transportation hub for the solar system."

1835: The New York Sun published a six-part series by the fictional Dr. Andrew Grant, who claimed he was secretary to the very real British astronomer Sir John Herschel, about the discoveries recently observed at the Cape of Good Hope, where Hershel had set up his telescope the year before. The series, now known as the Great Moon Hoax, used the first three articles to describe the sights of water, vegetation, bison, goats, cranes and pelicans on the moon. Then on August 28th came the shocking description of winged men:

Certainly they were like human beings, for their wings had now disappeared, and their attitude in walking was both erect and dignified...They averaged four feet in height, were covered, except on the face, with short and glossy copper-colored hair, and had wings composed of a thin membrane, without hair, lying snugly upon their backs, from the top of their shoulders to the calves of their legs...Whilst passing across the canvass, and whenever we afterwards saw them, these creatures were evidently engaged in conversation; their gesticulation, more particularly the varied action of their hands and arms, appeared impassioned and emphatic. We hence inferred that they were rational beings, and although not perhaps of so high an order as others which we discovered the next month on the shores of the Bay of Rainbows, they were capable of producing works of art and contrivance.

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