Explorers on the Moon, published in 1954, is the seventeenth of The Adventures of Tintin. Its original French title is On a marché sur la Lune ("We walked on the Moon"). It is the second of a two-part adventure begun in Destination Moon.
Explorers on the Moon continues from Destination Moon, beginning with Professor Calculus taking Tintin, Snowy, Captain Haddock and Frank Wolff to the Moon in his new rocket. However, the detectives Thomson and Thompson come up from the hold, having mistaken the time of the launch (1:34 a.m. instead of 1:34 p.m.) and were left on board while carrying out the final security check. This puts the expedition at risk due to the new strain on the oxygen supply, which was designed for four people and Snowy, forcing the expedition to accommodate six humans.
The expedition remains fraught with difficulties. The Thompsons accidentally turn off the nuclear power motor, which stops the artificial gravity and sends everyone floating until Tintin restarts the motor. Haddock has smuggled some whisky aboard in hollowed-out books, becomes drunk, and engages in an unscheduled spacewalk that results in him briefly becoming a satellite of the asteroid Adonis. Tintin also dons a space suit to fetch him, and, in a very rare display of temper, berates the Captain for his recklessness.
When the rocket engine must temporarily be shut down in order to execute the turnaround maneuver that will enable it to land on the Moon right side up, the momentary lack of artificial gravity also poses problems for Haddock, who has neglected to put on his magnetic boots in time. Additionally, Thomson and Thompson suffer a relapse of the condition caused by their ingestion of the energy-multiplying substance Formula 14 (see Land of Black Gold); as a result, they once more sprout thick hair that grows at lightning speed and frequently changes colour. The spacecraft eventually lands safely in the Hipparchus Crater, and by agreement among the crew, Tintin is the first to set foot on the Moon (the first human to do so). Everyone then gets a chance to walk about. Even the Captain enjoys it, but upon seeing the Earth, expresses unease over whether they will survive to see it again. The crew soon starts unpacking the scientific payload – telescopes, cameras, and a battery-powered expedition tank.
Calculus decides to reduce the total stay on the lunar surface from fourteen Earth days to six in order to conserve oxygen. Three days later, the Captain, Wolff and Tintin take the battery-powered tank to explore some stalactite caves in the direction of the Ptolemaeus Crater. Inside a cave Snowy slips into an ice-covered fissure, damaging his two-way radio, and there is a minor drama in rescuing him, but they all return to the rocket safely.Tintin decides to rest up and have lunch with Wolff while the Captain, Calculus, Thomson and Thompson immediately go out in the tank again on a 48-hour trip to explore the lunar caves in detail, as Calculus suspects they might find uranium or radium deposits there.
A sudden turn of events occurrs when the spy plot broached in Destination Moon is revealed to be Wolff, who has been working with a secret agent from Borduria, the brutish and autocratic Colonel Jorgen, whom Tintin had previously encountered and defeated in King Ottokar's Sceptre, has been hiding in the rocket since it was launched eight days previously (having been smuggled aboard along with technical equipment). When Tintin goes below to fetch some supplies for lunch, Jorgen knocks him out and binds him, then tries to seize control of the rocket, which he plans to fly back to his own country, leaving the others marooned on the Moon.Outside, from the Moon tank, Haddock, Calculus, Thomson and Thompson watch, horrified, as the rocket blasts off, but comes crashing back down and coming to rest. Jorgen wrongly accuses Wolff of sabotaging the launching gear and nearly shoots him, but Tintin stops him. Tintin has freed himself and succeeded in foiling the plot, but in order to do so had been forced to sabotage the rocket to prevent Jorgen's attempted liftoff.
Wolff reveals to the stunned group his history of gambling debts, which Jorgen's employers have used to blackmail him into aiding them involuntarily. After the group interrogates Jorgen and Wolff, Tintin eventually locks them in the hold. Calculus determines that the crew needs at least four days to repair the damaged rocket, while the remaining oxygen supply will last for four days at the most. Attributable to the strain on the oxygen supplies, the crew decides to abandon most of the equipment and to cut short the lunar stay.
The repair work is completed slightly ahead of schedule after three days, and the rocket cleared for lift-off. Even so, shortly before lift-off, the Captain becomes the first among them to experience a bout of dizziness due to build-up of carbon dioxide.
The lift-off is successful, but the rocket is put off course, and by the time the crew awake from the liftoff-induced blackout and correct it, they have lost additional time and thus consumed more oxygen. Halfway back to Earth, Jorgen escapes after overpowering the detectives, who have attempted to secure the prisoners more thoroughly. When Jorgen declares his intention to kill Tintin and the others, Wolff intervenes and a fight ensues; the gun goes off, killing Jorgen. However, even without Jorgen there isn't enough oxygen to make it home.
Overcome with guilt, Wolff sacrifices himself by opening the airlock and going out into space while the others are unconscious, leaving behind a moving farewell note that asks for forgiveness.The rest of the group continues towards Earth as their oxygen runs low. Everyone soon falls unconscious, but Tintin barely manages to set the rocket up to land on auto-pilot.
After the ship lands, firemen cut a makeshift entryway in the side. On the tarmac, everyone is revived, except for the Captain. A doctor is giving a prostrate Haddock oxygen, but fears that his heart is worn out because "It seems he was a great whiskey drinker." Suddenly roused by the sound of the word "whiskey," Captain Haddock wakes up with a start. Everyone rejoices and a ground crew member returns with a bottle of whiskey.
In the bliss of the moment, Calculus joyfully announces that "we will return" to the Moon (referring to mankind in general), whereupon Haddock furiously declares that he will never be seen inside a rocket again. He then promptly walks away, only to trip and fall over a stretcher in the midst of declaring that "Man's proper place ... is on dear old Earth!
- Captain Haddock
- Cuthbert Calculus
- Thompson and Thomson
- Boris Jorgen
- Frank Wolff
- Doctor Patella
- Muskar XII (mentioned)
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