Lunar researcher Ewen Whitaker, astronomer Gerard Kuiper, both from the UA Lunar and Planetary Lab, with Raymond Heacock from NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, posing with a model of the Ranger spacecraft used for early moon missions.
Davis knew UA scientists were among the first to map the moon using telescopes. Digging deeper into the story, he realized UA also contributed to the success of the first moon missions.
The film explores the work of Gerard Kuiper, an astronomer who came to the UA to better study the moon. The Southwest had some of the best telescopes of the time, plus dark skies and dry desert air provide optimal conditions for space research. Kuiper's work led to NASA funding the construction of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, which remains a leader in planetary science today.
Back when the space race began "we did not know what the composition of the moon was, we didn't know the physical state of the surface, whether you would sink into dust or whether it was rock," according to retired UA planetary scientist Robert Strom.
Kuiper and his team worked with NASA to systematically map the surface of the moon. These maps were then used to determine the best places for astronauts to land.
'Desert Moon' premieres July 4 at the Flandrau Science Center on the University of Arizona's campus. The file will show Mondays and Wednesdays at 2 PM, plus Fridays and Saturdays at 7 PM.