Take your first step out to outer space
You’re like a little baby who never walked before
So, take your first step out to outer space
— “Walking on the Moon”, Sun Ra and His Astro Infinity Arkestra with June Tyson[1]

“Saturn 3, when they want to give the solar system an enema
that’s where they stick the tube in.”
—Captain Benson and Major Adam

Image retrieved from https://saturn3makingof.com/posters/.
Image retrieved from https://saturn3makingof.com/posters/.

In the film Saturn 3 (1980), scientists Major Adam (Kirk Douglas) and Alex (Farrah Fawcett) are stationed on Saturn’s moon, Titan. The two are charged with discovering new strategies to feed Earth—the implication being that overpopulation and other environmental problems have forced humans to colonize the solar system in order to survive. The scientists, who are also lovers, have worked for three years in near isolation, with only their companion dog, Sally, by their side. During their tenure they regularly experience a communication blackout for 22 days, as they are “shadow locked” during an eclipse. They would be happy if they were forgotten, but their fantasy ends when they are visited by Captain Benson (Harvey Keitel), who unbeknownst to Adam and Alex is mentally unstable, having murdered and taken on the identity of the captain originally meant for the trip. Benson is also addicted to various psychoactive drugs. He explains he is charged with replacing the two scientists with a more efficient android named Hector—first of the Demigod Series. The android’s CPU consists of pure brain tissue of unborn humans that syncs up with Benson’s own in order to learn. Unfortunately, Hector also learns to be a psychopath—it kills Sally, and later kills Benson himself, only to take control of the food research station with Adam and Alex as its enslaved laborers.

On the surface, the widely panned film (directed by Stanley Donen of Singin’ in the Rain) is a sci-fi thriller, featuring the tropes of a murderous robot and space isolation. Released during the rise of the original Star Wars series and Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979), Saturn 3 by comparison comes across as dated and campy—featuring the aging star, Douglas, and the younger Fawcett, whose role is relegated to sex appeal. But it is the subtext of the film that is most relevant to a discussion of space colonization, and the potential for inter-planetary class-conflict and social breakdown. Adam is the aging earthling, born of a previous generation. As the Biblical name suggests, he is the first-man in the Garden of Eden—the garden in this case being Saturn 3—where he is sent to command new land and cultivate flora. On Saturn 3 Adam takes this new land as an opportunity to return to Genesis. On the other hand, the naïve Alex has never seen Earth, has never bitten of the apple. Alex is space-born. Knowing no other life, she has no knowledge of Earth’s wars, famine, pollution, or drugs like “blue dreamers,” (one among many other colors). Adam discourages her questions of Earth, not only in order to protect her, but also to save himself. It is through Alex as an unwritten book where Adam finds freedom. Often the two are presented nude or in the act of making love—further proof of the erotic, Edenic world they’ve constructed.

Alternatively, Benson represents a new generation of earth-born, reliant on various drugs, confident and cocky, he is without empathy, and on numerous occasions he explains the superiority of his own generation. Deriding Adam, Benson tells Alex (who he intends to have sex with), “I am today. He is yesterday. Don’t you like me? Don’t you?” and “Can’t you feel the decay?” [of Adam’s body]. Highly egotistical and psychopathic, Benson considers himself to be the ultimate man, unable to see Adam and Alex as anything more than inefficient workers, or in the case of the latter, simply an adequate mate with a “beautiful body.” Benson represents the Übermensch gone wrong—heavily medicated, with loyalty only to the used up Earth, he lacks the creative impulse to define his being and is therefore dangerously close to anomie. Even his cold logic is but an excuse to murder the real captain in a fit of anger. His “unlimited desires are insatiable by definition and insatiability is rightly considered a sign of morbidity. Being unlimited, they constantly and infinitely surpass the means at their command; they cannot be quenched. Inextinguishable thirst is constantly renewed torture.”[2] In one scene, Benson brawls with a naked Adam, who nearly chokes Benson to death, before Alex forces him to let go. Adam’s eyes widen as the knowledge of what the act of murder may mean to him—to his humanity—and the weight of human history is once more let loose upon his shoulders. Eventually, Benson is killed by the murderous Hector itself, now the physical manifestation of Benson’s ego—a full, blood-thirsty logic, going so far as to even slap the ripped off, bloody face of Benson onto its own mechanical head while mimicking the crew’s voices. It is Benson reborn, and extended; it is transhuman; it is schizophrenic. Later, Adam is forced to sacrifice himself to save Alex, who, afterwards, is seen traveling to visit the Earth for the first time.

On the way she is offered an assortment of pills by the flight staff—she declines.

Artwork by the author.

Children of the Absurd

“A man who has become conscious of the absurd is forever bound to it. A man devoid of hope and conscious of being so has ceased to belong to the future. That is natural. But it is just as natural that he should strive to escape the universe of which he is the creator.


In the story of Saturn 3 we find humanity bereft of meaning and reliant on pill popping multicolored uppers and downers—much like today, except normalized and publically encouraged. As plans for colonizing the Moon go, we must look into the future—what would a colony of lunar-born lead to? For as much as we concern ourselves with the first of the pioneers, we must also consider the long game—the children of the Moon—or else what is the point? Being nothing but a satellite for the home planet, one might ask what one’s purpose is with no Earth-gods, myths, and no history. How to serve Earth is the only commandment.[4] The older Adam remembers Earth, but ran away, or as Benson declares, “What you can’t stand you run from, like you ran from Earth. To set up your own little universe here.” With no creation story, lunar-born are “in a universe suddenly divested of illusions and lights, man feels an alien, a stranger. His exile is without remedy since he is deprived of the memory of a lost home or the hope of a promised land. This divorce between man and his life, the actor and his setting, is properly the feeling of absurdity. All healthy men having thought of their own suicide, it can be seen, without further explanation, that there is a direct connection between this feeling and the longing for death.”[5] Lunars, like Alex, are aliens capable of writing a new history, but with the weight of Earth on their backs, they are unable to be completely free. They are born unto the absurd.

Lunars, like Alex, are aliens capable of writing a new history, but with the weight of Earth on their backs, they are unable to be completely free. They are born unto the absurd.

“Well! Take heart! ye higher men! Now only travaileth the mountain of the human future. God hath died: now do we desire—the Superman to live,” declares Zarathustra.[6] Captain Benson, of Earth, is no overman. Instead, he is a twisted unfinished project who has reached its end, but who cannot heal the unmistakable feeling that something went wrong with the project of humanism. For natalists, the question must be made explicit: why breed? Why colonize and spread? Why thrive? This too is absurd. Saving earthlings will result in aliens; aliens who could care less about the home world. And why should they? Because they are not earthlings, the lunars will be made second-class, economically and likely even physiologically as a result of radiation and gravity. A lunar generation will be so physiologically different, that they could never set foot on Earth without being crushed, internally, by its gravity.[7] Lunars will be considered too weak, and brittle, physically inferior subhumans. It is theorized that a lunar colony will be safest if built underground—sheltered from the harsh lunar weather and cosmic radiation. This sublunarean existence will further feed into class distinctions and the subhumanism of the lunars—especially as related to physiological differences.[8] The cycle continues: racism, xenophobia, speciesism, and fundamentalism all will continue to be espoused by earthlings.

Since god is dead, Earth is deified in its place, the result of a new faith born of the infallibility of science and man, and preached by its media-gurus. Both lunar colonist and lunar-born will be expected to kneel at the church of Earth. But, if no man-god died on the sands of the lunar maria, if no promise of resurrection was ever made, then for the lunar-born there is only the present. With larger craniums, elongated spinal columns, and small feet, these lunars are not made in the image of god—but they might become gods. As with Alex, lunars are not the chosen; lunars are not bound by Earth-myths. In the case of both the failed humanists of Earth and the lunar-born, the problem is the possibility of anomic suicide, for “one does not advance when one walks toward no goal, or—which is the same thing—when his goal is infinity.”[9] For earthlings, is the extension of humans on the Moon simply a sound bite, a mere spectacle with no future—a pastiche space race, cosmic comedy, or reality T.V.? Either way, this nostalgic historicism will result in very real children of the Moon—a problem to anticipate, or, an opportunity for new supporting characters and antagonists. Through these boosted ratings, with the same old clichés and camp, Earthman is resurrected.

This essay was first published in July 2016 within the third volume of Lunar Insurrection, a collaborative series of publications based in Philadelphia that employ Earth’s Moon as a setting for new conceptions of ecology and humanity. Combining science fiction with critical theory, the project engages artists and writers in thought experiments surrounding the premise of lunar colonization. Lunar Insurrection’s third volume, Control Space, is framed as “a manual for lunar survival,” and grapples with the shifting definitions of ‘humanity’ and ‘humanism’ after Earth, featuring the work of seven contributors from Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York. Tackling the most inescapable of human experiences, Gomez’s essay “Lunar Resurrection” questions the meaning of death in outer space, anticipating the existential uncertainty faced by future humans who are born on, and who die upon, the Moon. –The Architects



Artwork by the author.

[1] My Brother the Wind Vol. II, Saturn, 1970

[2] Emile Durkheim, Suicide: A Study in Sociology, (New York, Routledge, 2005), 208. Digital.

[3] Albert Camus, “The Myth of Sisyphus,” 11.

[4] “The rest of the book To Serve Man, it’s… it’s a cookbook!” The Twilight Zone, Season 3, Episode 24, 1962, based on 1950 story by Damon Knight.

[5] Camus, 2

[6] Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra (India, Wilco Publishing, 2006), 334.

[7] Patty Currier, Field Journal, Nasa Quest, 1999, web

[8]  And yet, as with the Morlocks and the Eloi of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine (1895), there is a symbiotic relationship—a kind of cannibalism, or, a consumption of bad ideas—an inescapable loop.

[9] Durkheim, 208.