September 2005

Don’t come back from the moon

By Andrew Smith
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It seemed like every Apollo fan's dream: tracking down the surviving nine men who walked on the moon to discuss the landings and their lives since returning to Earth. As Andrew Smith discovered, however, the task required squaring the imagery of his lunar-age childhood with the baggage of the Cold War and the irreversible effects of time. It also required a certain amount of soul-searching just to figure out what he wanted to find. Given all of this, it should follow that his resulting book, Moondust: In Search of the Men Who Fell to Earth, is an inherently sad chronicle of disillusionment, but it isn't. Instead, Smith comes to terms with the various issues, examines the impact of the Apollo program on national and world culture and provides the biographical sketches, updates and astronaut face-time coveted by his fellow space fans.

As he meets his famous subjects one by one, he finally detects a pattern in the apparent randomness of their post-Apollo career trajectories. He finds the lunar module pilots Aldrin, Bean, Mitchell, Duke and Schmitt much more expressive of their lunar experience, which, he says, seems to remain a vivid part of their lives. Of the mission commanders, he writes: Armstrong, Young, Cernan, Scott: I can admire them all in different ways, but wouldn't want them near me if I was a talk-show host or composer of sonnets. He surmises that legendary astronaut puppeteer Deke Slayton knew exactly what he was doing when he put these men in the right seat, the commander's seat.

Slayton, Kranz, Kraft and other behind-the-scenes men are part of Smith's succinct overview of Apollo. He covers everything from the politics that led to its creation (and then to its end) to the so-called Mercury 13 women candidates and even the Apollo wives' subtle attempts at subterfuge against the mighty NASA PR machine. He delivers it all in well-written, conversational prose infused with a touch of British wit and a delightful ability to recapture the wide-eyed innocence with which he watched the Apollo era unfold.

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By Andrew Smith
4th Estate
ISBN 9780007155415

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