The moon isn't made of green cheese, of course.
It's made of wood and rock and silicate sand and a pinch of mica -- for glitter. And glycerine and water to keep down the dust.
Frankly, making the moon wasn't easy, said production designer Joseph Jennings, whose job was to recreate the surface of the moon on a soundstage at Paramount Studios for CBS' five-night miniseries "Space." In fact, Jennings said, the moon set had a lot of very specific requirements, "all of them difficult to achieve."
To be specific, he continued, "The moon has no air, so we can have no dirt or dust in the air. We had to use materials that would be loose, the right color, behave like wet sand without having to be wet and produce no dust.
"And then there was the problem of trying to tell great distance. Normally you perceive distance because the layer of air between you and the distant objects and the ambient light reflecting off distant objects make them appear dimmer and more out of focus. But this does not happen on the moon, which is why the moon looked so much like a set on the NASA videotapes.
"Also, there are no telephone poles or trees gradually getting smaller in the distance to establish perspective. There are only rocks and hills and since you don't have any idea how big the rock or hill is in the first place, you cannot tell how far away it is. All of this created design problems since it robbed us of the usual visual tricks we use to establish distance."
Jennings, who had created the extraterrestrial sets for "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan," wanted his work on "Space" to be believable. After all, millions of people saw the NASA footage that was spent back from the moon. Furthermore, a real astronaut, Richard F. Gordon, was technical adviser for "Space" -- and Gordon, who walked in space during the Gemini 11 flight and served as lunar module commander on Apollo 12, had seen the real thing from a closer vantage point.
Jennings and his staff, along with about 40 construction workers and carpenters, spent six week covering a wood framework with about 260 cubic yards of "moon dirt" (construction rock, silicate sand and mica) sprayed down with glycerine and water. Then the set was bordered by outlines of the gently curving lunar surface.
Gordon, watching the filming, was appreciative: "People don't realize the long hours and amount of activity it requires to create the scenery, assemble the props, light and then shoot the scene . . . For our scenes on the moon, we had to build an enormous set. We had to solve the problem of realistically recreating the single- source lighting from the sun."
That was Jennings' second major problem. He and Hector Figueroa, the director of photography, were challenged to illuminate the set with a single source of light so as not to cast shadows. Essentially, said Jennings, "we had to create our own sun." They devised an intensifier to funnel light from other instruments through a paper cone, which in turn bounced light back and intensified it in rows, thus throwing the light out sharper and farther than usual.
Initially, Figueroa said he "wanted to give the same feel as the NASA footage . . . if we can fool (the audience) for a while, I'll be happy."
In the end, when film from the studio was flashed on the screen at Johnson Space Center's Mission Control in Houston, Jennings and Figueroa realized how successful they had been: All the NASA employees and contractors who saw the pictures thought it was actual NASA footage.