PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Reviews

Moondust: In Search of the Men Who Fell to Earth by Andrew Smith

Rebecca Loncraine

Smith has clearly harboured a fascination with the moon landings since childhood and has translated this enthusiasm into a grown up project, properly researched and examined with the sober eye of adulthood.


Moondust

Publisher: Bloomsbury
Length: 308
Subtitle: In Search of the Men Who Fell to Earth
Price: £17.99
Author: Andrew Smith
UK publication date: 2005-05
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
The further we get from Apollo, the more avant-garde it's coming to seem.
-- Andrew Smith

Andrew Smith watched the first moon landing on TV in his suburban home in California when he was a small boy. Like millions of people across Planet Earth on that evening in 1969, he ran between the glowing black and white box in his front room and the front porch, where he stared up at the silvery orb and asked himself: Are they really up there? He found it so hard to connect the images of Armstrong and Aldrin on TV to this familiar shape above.

Smith has clearly harboured a fascination with the moon landings since childhood and has translated this enthusiasm into a grown up project, properly researched and examined with the sober eye of adulthood. The fascinating project involves tracking down the last nine remaining humans to have visited the moon to ask them what it was like being up there.

Moondust is a kind of road trip. Smith covers the USA, visiting ex-astronauts, lunar hoax conspiracy theorists, NASA scientists and campaigners for a return to manned space exploration. He asks them difficult questions about the Apollo programme, about its cost, motivations, meaning, and legacy.

Smith presents the cultural and political backdrop to the Apollo programme well -- the Vietnam War, the Cold War, and the 1960s belief in technology and the future. He also suggests convincingly that counter cultural currents of the '60s -- New Age mysticism, Woodstock and LSD -- were also connected in some way to what seems at first glance to be the super square space programme. We soon discover that many of the astronauts were not as square as they seemed. For example, it turned out that Ed Mitchell believed he could contact people on earth from space by using ESP.

Smith tries to find out what impact going to the moon had on the astronauts and their wives (unfortunately he can't write well about women's experiences). He locates most of the remaining nine men (Neil Armstrong remains as elusive as ever, although they do cross paths briefly). What's interesting about Smith's interviews is that he tries to get these Uber-Alpha space men (fighter pilots with PhDs) from an older generation when real men were expected to be steely and tight lipped, to talk about their feelings. He becomes frustrated with many of them who are unable to express what it was like on the moon or how they feel about it all now.

But what seems clear is that many of the astronauts have been similarly struggling to come to terms with what they did and where they've been. Eugene Cernan admits, "You feel inadequate that you can't give people the answer they want." Alan Bean left NASA after touching down on the moon, to become a painter, and he paints scenes from Apollo landings over and over again, as though he is trying to capture once and for all what it was really like. He admits that at one point when he was up there he felt as though he was an animation -- so unreal was the experience. Another astronaut has undergone hypnosis in an attempt to re-experience being on the moon and reconnect to his memories. It's hard for the astronauts to claim their experiences as their own. "When you've shared a moment with the whole world," observes Smith, "it can be hard to know precisely where your memories end and everyone else's begin".

Quite understandably, some space men had epiphanies on the way back from the moon as they gazed at the approaching beautiful bluey-green Earth in front of them. These often lead to religious conversions. Ed Mitchell says he had a realisation that the universe was an intelligent being. He founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences, an organisation aiming to reconcile science and religion.

Smith offers endless intriguing quirky facts, that Buzz Aldrin's mother's maiden name was Moon, for instance, or that most astronauts' marriages ended in divorce after their return. It is strange to discover that all the astronauts who went to the moon were either only children or only sons, and many had domineering fathers.

As the book develops, Smith builds a picture of the Apollo programme as unbelievably ambitious, and a sense of amazement that they managed it. One commentator at the time pointed out that they were having difficulty building reliable washing machines, let alone space ships. The Apollo ships contained about as much technology as two of today's mobile phones; the module that first descended to the surface of the moon had a computer with a 36k memory. He finds out that NASA estimated that there was only a 50% chance that Collins, Armstrong and Aldrin would make it back. He asks how different history would have been if they had got stuck and remained on the moon to die.

The author tries to include a personal relationship with the men on the moon, but it doesn't quite work. The story is very much about men (the tales of competitive astronauts racing Corvettes before missions is great) but Smith develops a slightly annoying laddish persona (hanging out with strippers in Vegas, for example), which adds nothing to the story.

The problem is that this tale is so damn interesting we just don't care much about the journalist; we just want him to get on with it. This book is a brilliant idea done well rather than brilliantly. But it works all the same.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Music

Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.

Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Music

The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Music

Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.

Music

15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.

Books

'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.

Music

20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.

Film

Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.

Film

The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.

Television

Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).

Music

Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.