The moon: where dreams and endeavours collide

Only when it was my turn to moon-walk could I fully appreciate how easy Armstrong made it look back in 1969. My first step was fine, but as I moved my right foot forward for the next step I could already feel I was losing my balance. To stop myself falling I overcorrected, flinging myself to the left. I repeated this comedic process four or five times before Dr Kim Enjie, there to welcome me in his official capacity of LS1 Director, offered his arm for support and escorted me to the moon buggy, in which we took the bumpy ride to the settlement.

The first and only lunar settlement, known as LS1, is situated high up on the northern rim of Peary crater, just a short moon-buggy ride from the lunar North Pole. The 73km-wide crater is the best site for human settlement for two reasons.

First, the crater floor lies in permanent shade, shielded from the sun by shadows created by mountainous walls of rock that ring the spot where, long ago, a meteorite crashed into the surface. Here a lake of ice water remained frozen close enough to the surface for it to be exploited by humans. The frozen mass was first suspected in 1994 following analysis of pictures sent back to earth by the unmanned Clementine mission. It was the breakthrough advocates of lunar settlement had been waiting for, and became the impetus and starting point for plans aimed at colonising the moon.

The second advantage of establishing a settlement close to the Peary crater is its position in relation to the sun. The high elevation of the crater's northern rim, and close proximity to the pole, ensures it is bathed in almost continuous sunlight. Temperatures here are relatively stable, usually between -20°C and -50°C. This is resort-style weather compared with the wild variations experienced elsewhere. The mean surface temperature for the moon is 107°C during the day, and -153°C at night. The hottest temperature ever recorded was a rock-melting 123°C, and the coldest an element-hardening -233°C.

The most extreme temperatures recorded on earth are mild by comparison, ranging between 56°C and -89°C. The ability of humans to thrive in the harsh moon environment is the culmination of decades of research, training and perseverance.

LS1 is a feat of engineering that rivals anything undertaken on the earth. An international team of scientists was able to melt the reservoir of ice, unlocking an invaluable resource of drinking water that could also be used for irrigation and converted into breathable air. The elements oxygen and hydrogen could also be separated to make the rocket fuel that will soon be used for the inaugural manned flight to Mars.

Underlying lunar and space exploration is the species' remarkable ability for adaptation. At no time was this clearer to me than when I took those first steps on the dusty lunar surface. As I stepped off the lunar module, I recalled the timeless words spoken by Neil Armstrong, as he became the first man to walk on the moon: 'One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.'

My first night on the moon, and every one thereafter, was spent in a small cylindrical chamber, like the kind you might come across in Tokyo. This tiny impersonal zone, barely the length and width of a large man, would be my bedroom for a whole year. Because gravity inside LS1 is the same as it is outside, roughly one-sixth that of the earth, we had Velcro sleeping suits to keep us on the bed. These made it easier to relax and stay asleep. In many respects, once I had mastered moon-walking, lunar gravity was preferable to both weightlessness and earth gravity. The important thing was always to maintain a regular regimen of exercise to avoid muscle wastage.

My first lunar dawn was something of a surprise. The 'night' blinds, which cut out the sunlight to give us an illusion of 'night' and 'day', peeled back over the reinforced glass to reveal that nothing had changed outside. I understood the phenomenon of perpetual light, but seeing is truly believing. Confronted by exactly the same light as I had witnessed the previous 'day', spread languidly over the surface, I felt unnerved. This flat mass of colour was like a beached animal. Immovable. Defiant.

In this perpetual light the surface of the moon is not silver, as it is seen from the earth, but a pale, jaundiced yellow. Its lifeless, haunting beauty is like the memory of a loved one who comes to you in a dream.

Sidney Greenberg said that 'life is a journey, not a destination.' As a single destination, the moon has done more to inspire the journey than any other.

This barren rock has been orbiting our planet for more than four billion years. It has witnessed the formation of the earth's oceans, the cooling of the land; it has been a twinkle in the eye of dinosaurs and worshipped by our ancestors. To stand upon it is to become part of a larger world, where the twin currents of dreams and endeavour collide, creating legends of which I am now part. But instead of making me feel immortal or like a god, I am struck by how far from being gods we are. Humans are not the alpha and the omega, and yet we are a part of it. Here on the moon, I can see the string that binds the universe. The sun, the earth, the moon, everything that exists, is part of a great, continual oneness, which it is our destiny to explore.

'Look,' said Dr Enjie, 'for there is the most precious vision you could ever see.' Beyond the glass, across the surface of the moon, far beyond my puny reach, the blue earth rotated on its side. Such was the water planet's beauty that it seemed to shine a thousand times brighter than the sun.

'What time is it?' asked Dr Enjie.

'12:43 Greenwich Mean Time,' I said.

Said Dr Enjie, 'Your family will be having lunch.'

Lost in our yearning for home and loved ones, we conceded to the inevitable ache of loneliness that accompanies extreme isolation. But there was something else. An understanding, a complete appreciation for what we had left behind. I had journeyed 384,403km to the moon, and learned, above all else, how much I loved the Earth.

This article originally appeared in The Middle of Nowhere

Craig Scutt has lived on three continents and thinks everywhere's a good home. He hopes to come back as a Lonely Planet photographer's camera lens.