10) Moondust, by Andrew Smith
After reading James Hansen’s biography of Neil Armstrong, I mused that “If I want to read about the wider meaning of his mission and of space exploration, I will have to look somewhere else. And I will.” While Andrew Chaikin’s A Man On The Moon was a perfectly decent narrative history, it didn’t really answer for me the key question, what did it all mean?
Moondust is superb. Smith tells the story of his efforts to track down the nine living men who have walked on the moon, presenting it as a chronological narrative, one by one, with contributory material from other interested parties (Reg Turnhill, Richard Gordon, Bill the dentist in Carson City, Charles Duke’s wife Dotty, etc). But he integrates also reflections on how it seemed at the time, what was going on in politics, how the Apollo program affected and was affected by the popular culture of the day.
He gets much more from the five surviving LM pilots than from the four surviving commanders. Alan Bean in particular comes across as the kind of guy you would like to know. Buzz Aldrin, given a chance to tell his side of the story, seems much more human than in Hansen’s biography of Armstrong. Armstrong himself proves elusive – two conversations at conferences, followed by a series of email exchanges. The most elusive of all is the disgraced David Scott, in hiding not so much because of the decades old “stamps affair” but because of his fling with British newsreader Anna Ford (which I had completely forgotten about).
I guess I found the book particularly appealing because Smith reflects several times that he is about the same age as the astronauts were when they carried out the moon landings. He is four years older than me, and wrote most of the book three to four years ago, so I felt a particular connection with him, and with them, while reading it. But I think it is written well enough to appeal even to people who are not approaching or just past their fortieth birthdays.
It would have been nice to have had some photographs, but Smith’s visual descriptions are so evocative that perhaps it’s not necessary, and anyway there is no shortage of pictures of the relevant individuals on the Web. An excellent book.