Desert Moon

A documentary film by Jason Davis

From Arizona to the moon. And the dawn of planetary science.

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy famously declared Americans would walk on the moon by the end of the decade. But at the time, scientists couldn't say for sure whether the moon's surface was solid, or just a thick layer of dust. While NASA engineers focused on building rockets, scientists scrambled to map the moon, send robotic probes to its surface, and select astronaut landing sites.

At the University of Arizona, astronomer Gerard Kuiper led the effort to understand the moon. He established the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, one of the world's first research institutions dedicated to the solar system. Desert Moon features interviews with Kuiper's fellow scientists, along with restored archival footage and photographs. Using the lens of the space race, Desert Moon examines the fascinating chain of events that led to the creation of planetary science.

The film was created by University of Arizona journalism graduate student Jason Davis and narrated by former astronaut Mark Kelly. Davis is now a digital editor for The Planetary Society.

Order the DVD

You can order Desert Moon on DVD through CreateSpace for about $10, including shipping. There is no markup beyond CreateSpace's e-store fee. If you want to contribute more, consider making a donation to Flandrau Science Center & Planetarium, which helped make the film possible.

Promotional resources

Desert Moon promotional poster.

Gerard Kuiper, Ewen Whitaker and Raymond Heacock discuss the impending impact of Ranger 7 on the lunar surface. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory

Filmmaker Jason Davis (left) poses with Captain Mark Kelly, a former astronaut who narrated the film. Image credit: Shipherd Reed


To contact the filmmaker, please email