THIS Sunday, get yourself to a local hill, set your smartphones for 3.47pm precisely, then hang around for about 45 minutes. With any luck (and a cloudless sky), the moon will rise into view – 14 per cent bigger, 30 per cent brighter and 16,139 miles closer than the average.

We’ve taken to calling this – after the American usage – the “supermoon”. Or you could follow the words of the novelist Marcel Proust: “The ancient unalterable splendour of a Moon, cruelly and mysteriously serene.” Either way, there it will be, unnervingly large in your skies, brushing the very tops of the electrical pylons.

I will watch, somewhat consoled. As democracy and power seems to be tying itself into a mess of knots, I often take the cosmic perspective to calm my mind down.

(Though as a hard-core materialist, it’s more the vastness of space than the nearness of God that puts our current travails in perspective for me.)

But I’m only somewhat consoled. I’ve never been that impressed with the moon, as my daily reminder of the materiality of the universe.

The other day, I happened upon a high-definition Nasa picture of it, and it looked like a battered old boxer’s face - pitted with scars, indents, craters, blotches.

Indeed, the moon slightly scares me. There, in all its blasted ruin, is what happens to you when you have no protection against the assaults – the debris and radiation – of deep space.

That means no 50 to 60 miles of biosphere that might burn up the smaller fragments. No biosphere, also, to sustain human civilisation – one that might deploy its wits and technology against the bigger asteroids, whose next dangerous appointment with humanity (say some scientists) is long overdue.

Though of course by that crisis point, we might have unravelled the whole ecosystem and choked or fried ourselves into incapability anyway. To me, the moon is a daily warning: a marker of barrenness and lifelessness, a ready tombstone for if/when we screw it up. Behold your potential fate, Spaceship Earth!

There is, of course, an entirely cheerier way to regard the moon – which is as an indicator of just how connected to this universe we are, and how much at home we are in it.

Since our first moment of self-consciousness, humans have timed their days, and if necessary conducted their affairs, by the rhythms and rays of moonlight. The daily and sometimes twice-daily tides at our seacoasts – the earth’s waters pulled by the moon’s gravitational forces – had to be predicted and charted by maritime civilisations, in order that fishing, trading and warring be properly executed. (Julius Caesar’s ignorance of the Channel’s tides meant his boats were beached in the Roman invasion of Britain.)

Indeed, Nasa’s moon website tells me that “the moon makes Earth a more livable planet, by moderating our home planet’s wobble on its axis, leading to a relatively stable climate”. The Indo-European root of moon is mehnot, meaning “to measure”. The regular cycles of the moon, the shadows that reliably cross and shape its surface, have been a precision tool, even a timepiece, right across recorded human history.

So maybe I should give the moon – that interplanetary punchbag – something of a break. Yet while Proust’s moon was “cruelly and mysteriously serene”, ours gets ever closer to becoming benignly and banally our next backyard.

The march of science was always going to make it so. The originator of science fiction, Jules Verne, was of the generation just prior to Proust. But in retrospect, Verne had anticipated many of the scientific challenges of moon travel. In his 1870 novel From The Earth To The Moon, Verne’s projectile even lifted off from Florida and landed in the Pacific Ocean, similar to the eventual Apollo missions.

So as modern science and technology proceeded, this rough satellite’s mystery was already peeling away. I was a child stuck to my TV from the late sixties to the mid-seventies, agog at every American moon mission, in breathless wonder at the blurry images. But even towards the end, you began to wonder how many stunts an astronaut could do on the surface of the moon. Hitting golf balls? Bouncing around exuberantly?

We young rocketeers didn’t just expect jet packs when we grew up – we wanted working, visitable moon bases also. The cheesy Gerry Anderson TV series Space:1999 not only provided a working model, but an exact calendar year for completion.

Yet once old Luna was flagged and traversed, the general interest palled. This showed just how tied the whole enterprise was to public mood and media spectacle – in particular, the American idealism of the program’s initiator, President JF Kennedy.

In the 1995 movie Apollo 13 – dramatising that near-disastrous moon mission in 1970 – one astronaut complains during his preparations: “The networks dumped us. One of them said going to the moon is about as exciting as going to Pittsburgh.”

Nowadays, when you scour the media channels for moon news, the “unalterably splendid” orb is marked for either recreation or exploitation. I found a particularly manic example in Moon Express, a Silicon Valley based company who ultimately want to be robot-mining the place for niobium, yttrium and dysprosium. These elements are “scarce on Earth”, reports the LA Times, but “are used in everything from a Toyota Prius car battery to guidance systems on cruise missiles”. Delightful.

But ultimately, says their manically grinning chairman Naveen Jain on CNBC, “we want people to be able to say, ‘Hey honey, we’re going to the moon’ – what more could you possibly ask for?” In 15 years, when Moon Express claim their “moon colony” will be up and running, Jain expects “the first baby to be born there, pointing back at the earth… Better to be a Lunatic first than a Martian much later”.

The hype and the zingers of the current space boom are mostly fun. Though as with the entrepreneur Elon Musk and his Mars ambitions, the tech giants display little political awareness. Using metaphors like “colony” sounds like a very old story starting up again.

In 1979, the UN established a “Moon Agreement”, which identified it as the “common heritage of mankind”, and suggested a new international body should govern the use of its resources “as such exploitation is about to become feasible”. It looks like the establishment of this body is becoming urgent.

So I’m a bit soured on Luna, lost as it soon will be to the relentless pummelling of robot miners, extracting helium-3 for futuristic fusion reactors. But perhaps I’m thinking about the wrong moons in this solar system.

Rather than the old grey chunk above, I should turn my attention to Titan, Enceladus or Europa, circling around Saturn and Jupiter. The dense, watery climates of these moons, and their comparable size to Earth, are the likeliest places in our immediate planetary neighbourhood where we might find alien life.

And however tiny and microbe-like, however fragile and tentative, the discovery of such a life-form really would be a cosmic consolation. We’d know we weren’t just an anomaly or accident, facing a vast and indifferent universe. Maybe this knowledge would muster enough wisdom to help us not snuff ourselves out at this particular juncture.

Our science fiction dreams of exploration, discovery and encounter could well become reality, scores of generations down the line. If we can keep the show going, that is.

Now there are some big moons to get excited about. But enjoy the spectacle tomorrow. At least, by comparison with the talking suits and the hot takes, it hints at the real big picture.