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Blast from the Past

A slew of new titles helps us remember the Apollo 11 lunar mission.


ON JULY 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong stepped onto the craggy lunar surface, demonstrating America’s great Cold War triumph and giving us perhaps the most transcendent holy cow moment of the postwar era. But what were the astronauts really thinking as they staked out the final frontier? Not much, at least to judge from Craig Nelson’s otherwise compelling and thoroughly researched account, Rocket Men: The Epic Story of the First Men On the Moon. Or not much they could readily articulate. Straitlaced Air Force test pilots and engineers, these guys weren’t exactly given to spinning yarns. “It was not within our ken to share emotions or to utter extraneous information,” astronaut Michael Collins reports. How do you extract the essence of the human race’s greatest adventure from men who say less than Marcel Marceau with a mouthful of Saltines?

Andrew Chaikin runs into the same problem in Voices from the Moon. A hard-core NASA junkie, he sat down with 23 lunar astronauts and patiently goaded them to wax poetic, with often less than stellar results. “The earth looks from the moon like the moon looks from the earth,” John Young of Apollo 16 tells him. Thanks, Commander!

The fact is, however many thrusters we deploy, the reality of space travel will probably never compare to the dream. Which is why the rerelease of M. Sasek’s vividly illustrated 1963 children’s classic, This is Cape Canaveral (retitled This is the Way to the Moon), with its charmingly naïve illustrations, is ultimately so much more transporting.

Meanwhile, engineering fans can geek out with Rick Stroud’s science-heavy The Book of the Moon, which starts at the creation of the big orb itself and details the nuts and bolts of how exactly Apollo 11 accomplished liftoff. And those itching for orbit themselves should check out Piers Bizony’s How to Build Your Own Spaceship, which examines space travel’s new commercial frontier: the launch of Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, scheduled for next year. Fasten your seatbelts.


What else to read on the go in July

The Supremes

If the Supremes haven’t been fully appreciated as a cultural force, chalk it up to their music, which presented such a dazzling surface few suspected the depths of struggle underneath. With his well-wrought new biography, Mark Ribowsky gives Detroit girls their due.

Hot House Flower and the 9 Plants of Desire

A young female ad exec gets down and dirty—in the garden, of course—in Margot Berwin’s sprightly debut novel. Journeying to the Yucatán in search of a collection of legendary botanical specimens, she encounters shamans and black-marketeers, and naturally, she blossoms in the end.

Mile-High Fever

In the 1850s, two brothers headed west to seek their fortune and found a massive silver deposit. The Comstock Lode was soon drawing schemers, dreamers and a young Mark Twain to Virginia City, Nevada. Mining the town’s history, Dennis Drabelle unearths a rich vein of his own.

One Response to “Blast from the Past”

  1. michaelbehrens Says:
    July 15th, 2009 at 6:31 pm

    Great Reviews – Thanks for the 40th anniversary reminder.
    Another good book to watch out for teens is called Moon Base One. It will be available from Amazon in about a month – sponsored by the Federation of Galaxy Explorers (FOGE) which helps with Space Camps, etc.
    Go Space!