Week of Oct. 21-27, 2018
I haven't yet seen the new film "First Man" about Neil Armstrong's remarkable journey to the moon, but I'm looking forward to doing so soon.
If you listen to tales from ancient China, however, they tell a different story. You see, they claim that a brave soul named Wan Hu was the first.
No, this isn't the opening of an Abbott and Costello routine, but the story is nearly as amusing.
Wan Hu was a minor government official in the Ming Dynasty who, as legend goes, wanted to journey to the moon. Of course, this was impossible in those days, but Wan Hu believed that China's advanced rocket and fireworks technology was the key to achieving his dream.
So, one night, while the moon shone brightly over 16th century China, Wan Hu strapped himself into a specially built chair with 47 gunpowder-laden bamboo rockets latched to it. On his command, his assistants lit the fuses and — I'm sure — ran frantically for their lives.
Within seconds, a tremendous roar ripped through the air and a huge flash lit the landscape like day. When the smoke cleared, the assistants sheepishly peeked out from their hiding places.
Holy chopsticks! Wan Hu was gone! And, as you might guess, he was never seen or heard from again. Apparently, Wan Hu did, in fact, go to the moon!
Could such an event have really taken place? Surely someone, somewhere throughout history has tried such a stunt, but what about Wan Hu? Did he really make it to the moon that night, or was he completely obliterated in the launch? Discovery Channel's "MythBusters" decided to find out by trying the experiment with a crash-test dummy named Buster.
They found that their 47 rockets exploded upon ignition and shot the chair violently to one side, nearly destroying the chair and severely burning but not obliterating Buster. And while the chair did lift off a bit, it surely didn't go very far — certainly not as far as the moon.
But that's not the story the Chinese tell. Legend says that Wan Hu did, indeed, make it to the moon that night, and that we can still see him there, sitting in the same chair and calmly reading a book.
This week, when you see the full moon in the sky after dark, look at it carefully. Its dark features are known to modern scientists as "mare" or "seas" — vast plains of solidified magma. But some also trace the outline of the intrepid Chinese explorer.
Now, while this story may be purely legend, the region outlining Wan Hu's abdomen is where the first astronauts from planet Earth actually set down onto the lunar surface 49 years ago, the region known now as the Sea of Tranquility.
As the moon drifts through our sky from night to night and from month to month, the line between light and dark — the "terminator" — gradually migrates across the lunar surface as the angle of sunlight on it changes. But Wan Hu will always remain a constant reminder that people even centuries ago dreamed of traveling beyond — to the moon, the planets and the stars.
Visit Dennis Mammana at dennismammana.com. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.