In total, twenty-four humans have travelled to the Moon, and twelve have walked on its surface. In the 41 years since Apollo 17 Commander Eugene Cernan climbed from the moon’s dusty surface up the rungs of the Lunar Module and became “the last man on the moon, our understanding of what it means to be human has changed radically. We know now that the bacterial cells in our bodies outnumber human cells by a factor of 10 to 1, and because of this we can no longer consider ourselves to be isolated physiological islands that are capable of independent self-sufficiency. In fact, we exist as a complex ecosystem and social network containing body cells, but also trillions of bacteria and other microorganisms that inhabit our skin, mouth and especially intestines.
If we now consider the moon landings in this new context, then unimaginable numbers of bacteria have already visited the moon. I was reminded of this two years ago when a bacterium called Streptococcus mitis colonized my aortic heart valve, and in the process nearly killed me. Apparently, the same bacterium was carried to the moon on the Surveyor 3 probe where it survived for two years.
This work playfully refers to “The Republic of The Moon”, an upcoming and exciting art exhibition that seeks to re-examine our relationship with our planet’s only natural satellite. It imagines that the many bacteria, that were inadvertently left behind after the moon landings, survived and are evolving into new and exotic extra-terrestrial ecologies. As they do on Earth now, these bacteria will evolve to form complex and bioluminescent structures which I call moonflowers. In the future, these will cover the entire surface of the moon so it that it becomes bioluminescent. The light emitted by bioluminescent bacteria has an ancient evolutionary power and acts as a beguiling lure for prey or mates, and in this context, perhaps the moon’s new inhabitants are luring us back to it, but for what purpose?