Blog posts about language

Moonshot: A Wondrous Word

One of the highly enjoyable tasks of brand name development is researching multiple disciplines in search of words and concepts. On one such exploration, I encountered the word “moonshot”, a term that originated during the Apollo 11 space launch to describe the act or procedure of launching a spacecraft to the moon.

Since that time, the word has accrued an additional meaning. It is now used to describe a highly imaginative, innovative, and groundbreaking project with little or no expectation of immediate profit.

For example, the radical undertakings Google develops in its semi-secret lab are known as “moonshot projects” — e.g. Google Glass (augmented reality glasses), Project Loon (a network of space balloons that brings Internet service to remote regions of the world), and Project Calico (life extension). In similar spirit, Vice-President Joe Biden called for a “moonshot” to cure cancer.

Some fifty years earlier, the avant-garde poet, Mary Ellen Solt, wrote “Moonshot Sonnet”, a poem that took its inspiration from the diagrammatic codes NASA engineers developed to plan and execute the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Moonshot sonnet

Solt wrote: “It has not been possible since the Renaissance to write a convincing sonnet on the moon. Looking at the moon photographs in The New York Times, it occurred to me that since the scientist’s symbols for marking off areas on the moon’s surface were presented five to a line and the lines could be added up to fourteen, a visual sonnet could be made of them. The poem is intended as a spoof of an outmoded form of poetry and as a statement of the problem of the concrete poet’s search of valid new forms.”

Moonshot is a fabulous word: dreamy and romantic, swift and strong. In two short syllables it evokes aspiration, discovery, and adventure. Whether a descriptor for a kind of visionary technology or the title of a groundbreaking poem, the word is as powerful as the projects and poem it titles.