Tuesday, July 9, 2019
I dusted off my copy Of a Fire on the Moon to read this month, as the great mission of Apollo 11 turns 50. I bought the Taschen version of the book a few years back. It is loaded with pictures, while still being a convenient size. I see they have enlarged the format for the golden anniversary, beefing up the price in the process.
Mailler is best when reporting news stories. His novels tend to be dense, unwieldy things, driven by a false bravado. The purple prose comes out in his non-fiction books as well, but I like the way he captures the excitement around an event, like he did in The Fight, probably my favorite book of his.
He starts this book with the pre-flight interview by the astronauts. They were kept in a glass box so as not to pick up any viruses in the movie theater packed with reporters and photographers. He seems to be attracted to Buzz Aldrin more so than Neil Armstrong, who comes across as wooden. Michael Collins is pretty much odd man out.
I grew up on the Apollo missions. It was Tang and space food sticks for me at breakfast. I was steeped in the lore of the Apollo missions throughout the 70s. It was thrilling to see the Americans and Soviets join together on the Apollo-Soyuz missions, reducing the tensions of the Cold War that began with Sputnik 18 years before. My dream of becoming an astronaut faded with time, but the memories remain. It is great to see NASA once again returning to the fore.
Aldrin has become the face of the American space agency in recent years. Neil Armstrong died in 2012. Michael Collins is still alive but lives largely in the shadow of the famous moon mission, despite having written what is regarded as one of the best books on the mission, Carrying the Fire. It didn't help that Mailler had beat him to the punch with his serialized telling of the mission, which first appeared in Life magazine between 1969 and 1970. I suppose in many ways Collins set the record straight, if anyone cared to read.
The mission has a particular resonance this year, as NASA announced it would go back to the moon. It is the first part of a two stage mission to Mars. NASA hopes to turn the moon into a base of operations for further exploration of the solar system. It is an ambitious mission that will carry us well into the future, assuming the government is willing to underwrite it. One of the big problems over the years has been lack of funding, with NASA resorting to unmanned missions to the planets within our solar system, transmitting back valuable new information.
NASA will be competing against the interests of Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, who have both launched rocket companies. Musk has set his sights on Mars within the next decade. China also has big ambitions after successfully landing a spaceship on the dark side of the moon earlier this year. At some point it would be nice if all these competing interests would come together in an International Starfleet.
It is great seeing all this interest in space travel again. After the end of the space shuttle program, the US has had to resort to sending its astronauts to the International Space Station in Russian rockets. This took a lot of the luster out of the space program. A trip to the moon would go a long toward restoring public confidence in NASA.