The First Man in Space or on the Moon? Think Again! It was Tintin!

Anusuya Datta
6 min readApr 13, 2021

April 12 is a historic day for the Space industry. On this day back in 1961, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in Space. Not to be left behind, United States sent its first man in Space in less than a month. Alan Shepard became the second man to travel into Space on May 5, thus sparking off the famous Space race between the two Cold War era superpowers.

December 1968 saw the launch of Apollo 8, the first manned Space mission to orbit the Moon, and in about six months Americans Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made the historic Moon landing on July 20, 1969.

But everyone knows this, and that’s not the story.

What many don’t know is that super hack Tintin was way ahead of both the superpowers. In flying to Space as well as landing on Moon. Yes, we are talking about the Belgian boy with a tuft of ginger hair.

For the uninitiated, Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi, popularly as Hergé, created the iconic character Tintin, whose adventures have captivated readers all over the world for the past eighty years. The series stands as one of the most beloved European comics of the twentieth century, translated into over 50 languages and selling over 200 million copies worldwide, and even inspiring a film adaptation by Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson.

Hergé’s Explorers on the Moon was published in Le Journal Tintin in 1950. This first part was retitled as Destination Moon and published in 1953, followed by Explorers on the Moon in 1954.

So technically, Tintin made the Moon landing in 1950. That’s 19 years before Mr Armstrong.

Who would have imagined reading the book in 1950, when Tintin exclaims (after taking a few steps on Moon’s earth), “I have taken a few steps. For the first time certainly in the history of mankind, there is an explorer on the Moon!”, that another man would utter almost similar words 19 years later: “That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.”?

And this time for real.

But how did Hergé anticipate the lunar adventure with such precision, especially coming so many years ahead of an actual man in Space, let alone a Moon landing?

The Tintin Moon adventure has been widely acclaimed by critics for its exceptional attention to technical detail, with many hailing it as a masterpiece for its uncannily accurate portrayal of lunar landscapes and space exploration. It’s intriguing to note that unlike Hergé’s earlier works, the Moon series, as he described it, didn’t have any “moonmen, monsters, or incredible surprises.” That way it’s fascinating how a renowned children’s comic book author would transition to science fiction while maintaining a fervent commitment to realism and accuracy.

Some believe Hergé’s foray into science fiction could have been prompted by his friendly competition with colleague Edgar P. Jacobs, who introduced his own science fiction comic, The Secret of the Swordfish, in 1950. However, beyond this rivalry, it’s widely believed that Hergé drew inspiration from Jules Verne’s 1870 novel Around the Moon and the 1950 American film Destination Moon.

For his tale on the lunar adventure to be a success, Hergé understood it was crucial to ground the space journey in scientific fact. Consequently, he carefully eliminated anything fanciful or unrealistic from the script, and conducted extensive research on rockets and space travel. He is believed to have received great help from his friend Bernard Heuvelmans, author of the non-fiction work L’Homme parmi les étoiles (Man Among the Stars).

Additionally, he initiated correspondence with Alexander Ananoff, author of L’Astronautique, a book on space travel. During this period, Hergé visited the Center for Atomic Research at the Ateliers de Constructions Electriques de Charleroi. Notably, he commissioned the construction of a small rocket model, which he presented to Ananoff for validation of its realism as a representation of a moon rocket. Subsequently, he utilized this model for precise sketches during the production of the comic.

Naturally, all the research Hergé did showed up in the final product. The computer system at the Sprodj Space center in the made-up country of Syldavia looked a lot like UNIVAC I, the first commercially produced general-purpose electronic digital computer designed for business applications in the United States. Tintin’s rocket to the moon seemed to have been inspired by the V-2 rocket, the first long-range missile made by the Germans during World War II. It’s hard to miss the similarity between the red-and-white checkered pattern on Hergé’s rocket and the black and white pattern on V-2.

The resemblance between the red-and-white checkered pattern adorning Hergé’s rocket and the black-and-white design of the V-2 rocket is unmistakable.

In both books, Hergé seamlessly integrates elements of real science, infusing the adventures with a sense of authenticity. From the meticulously detailed space suits to the innovative use of atomic motors and rocket thrusters for navigation, the portrayal of space exploration in the Tintin adventure reflects a deep respect for scientific principles.

Hergé’s keen eye for detail is evident in his faithful depiction of the moon’s surface, capturing its rugged terrain and distinct craters with remarkable accuracy.

The portrayal of weightlessness in space, along with the humorous inclusion of whiskey bubbles, adds a sense of fun to the story while maintaining its realism.

Who would have thought about the concept of viewing Earth as a 3D sphere more than 50 years before Google Earth!

Hergé even goes as far as to suggest that water exists under the Moon’s surface. Till a few years ago, you would have laughed it off as fiction.

As pointed out by literary critic Jean-Marie Apostolidès, there was a notable departure from the conventional “good vs. evil” narrative seen in Hergé’s earlier works. Instead, a new theme emerged: the struggle between “truth and error,” especially evident as the journey to the Moon takes on a mystical quality guided by scientific principles. In The Metamorphoses of Tintin, the English translation of the first critical examination of the iconic Tintin cartoons, Apostolidès delves into Tintin’s character evolution and unveils the cohesive vision underlying Hergé’s masterpiece.

Adding to the delight is Hergé’s signature humor, which infuses the narratives with wit and charm, while his creation of lovable and awe-inspiring characters further enriches the storytelling experience. Destination Moon and Explorers on the Moon are not only masterpieces in their own right but also serve as valuable lessons in the art of balancing serious themes with lighthearted comedy.

Despite its Belgian origins, the Tintin series has garnered immense popularity and recognition worldwide, transcending cultural barriers, captivating readers from diverse backgrounds. The series has sparked imaginations across generations, instilling a sense of wonder and excitement for the unknown.

Tintin and his friends (including the snow-white Snowy) were as inspiring for our generation, and perhaps the one before that, till Harry Potter came in.

After all, the boy with a tuft of ginger hair who “always did the right thing”, had gone, to borrow the Star Trek line, “where no man had gone before”.

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Anusuya Datta

A writer by choice, an editor by profession, a tech commentator by chance.