On July 20, 2019, a half-century will have passed since Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the moon. More than just an excuse to celebrate an epochal achievement, the 50th anniversary is also an opportunity to reflect on the Apollo program’s complex origins and legacy—and on how lunar exploration in general has changed our understanding not only of the moon, but also of Earth and ourselves.

To that end, a huge number of commemorative media and memorabilia are already appearing on screens and shelves around the world, with even more to follow in coming months. Of the books in this overwhelming flood, one stands out for the understated elegance of its prose and the profoundly wide-angle view it offers of its subject: Oliver Morton’s The Moon: A History of the Future. Only one of the book’s eight chapters is explicitly devoted to the Apollo missions, but the tome, in its entirety, places humanity’s lunar forays into new, thought-provoking contexts guaranteed to surprise and delight even the most knowledgeable space buff.

Scientific American spoke with Morton, a writer and editor at the Economist, about the motivations for future lunar voyages, how to responsibly conduct them and why the moon should make us all reconsider what it means to live on Earth.

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