Go to "Moon." Don't Go to the Moon.

Slate's Culture Blog
June 12 2009 6:01 PM

Go to "Moon." Don't Go to the Moon.

Moon , an awesomely creepy sci-fi film that opens in New York and Los Angeles today (and nationwide in coming weeks ), begins with an advertisement for a futuristic energy company that has solved the world's problems by mining helium-3 from lunar regolith and firing it back to Earth. "Who'd of thought? All the energy we ever needed, right above our heads ..."

Daniel Engber Daniel Engber

Daniel Engber is a columnist for Slate

Advertisement

Lonely miner Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) has been stationed at an industrial outpost on the dark side of the moon with no one for company but a sycophantic robot named GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey). As his three-year contract winds down (along with his sanity), Bell begins to think that Lunar Industries has its own dark side-in the form of a ruthless business model that commodifies its workers in the most literal way.

It's tempting to lump the movie in with Wall-E , Dawn of the Dead , and other classic sci-fi critiques of consumer culture. But there's another, more obvious warning here, that couldn't be more timely: Stay off the moon!

Next Wednesday, NASA will launch its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter —the first step in the agency's costly and ridiculous plan to set up a permanent moon base . (The orbiter's mission: "to create the comprehensive atlas of the Moon's features and resources necessary to design and build a lunar outpost .") The recon mission will cost several hundred million dollars ; to set up the base may run the tab into the hundreds of billions. Yet it's not at all clear what the potential payoff would be.

The government's rundown of potential " lunar exploration objectives " does include a Moon -like scenario: We might eventually "create a new energy market based on the moon." But even the most optimistic experts say that the use of helium-3 as a fuel source is a long, long way off .

In any case, the mental breakdown of Moon 's main character does make a strong case for another of NASA's lunar objectives, coded "mHH8" on the master list (PDF): "Provide leisure activities to support the psychological health of those living on and visiting the moon."