A crescent moon setting at sunrise over the mountains

How people viewed the Moon before Apollo and Artemis

Centuries before any lunar missions, human reverence for the Moon's beauty influenced civilizations and religions, aided timekeepers and farmers, and inspired scientific inquiry.

A crescent moon setting at sunrise over the mountains at Tolar Grande, Argentina.
Photograph by Keith Ladzinski, Nat Geo Image Collection

NASA's Apollo missions and Artemis program reflect humanity's long obsession with Earth's satellite. As it trails across the sky, the illuminated disk of the Moon moves through its phases—from new Moon (dark) to crescent (partially lit) to gibbous (mostly lit) to full Moon (fully lit) and back again. Cultures have been tracking this lunar cycle for tens of thousands of years, and records of those rhythms have provided a way to mark the passage of time.

The Moon’s complete cycle takes about 29.5 days—about one calendar month. In fact, the term “month” stems directly from “Moon.” While the Sun is the foundation of the current Gregorian calendar, the lunar cycle remains an integral part of religions and cultures across Earth, marking important events and milestones. For example, the Chinese calendar and new year follow the lunar calendar, as do both the Jewish and Islamic calendars.

(How NASA’s Artemis program plans to return astronauts to the moon.)

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