Great Gig in the Sky

Between 1968 and 1972, nine American spacecraft voyaged to the Moon and 12 men walked upon its surface. These twelve are still the only human beings to have stood on the Moon. Earlier this year, I watched the excellent documentary In the Shadow of the Moon, a film that brings together the surviving crew members from the Apollo missions and allows them to tell their story. Unfortunately the reclusive Neil Armstrong is absent, but the amusing anecdotes told by his friends give great insight into his character (he comes across as a pretty cool guy).  I strongly recommend this movie (which you can rent from Alice in Videoland).  The “rarely seen footage” is beautiful and compelling. The astronauts are all refreshingly down to earth, and I found it interesting how their experience in space shaped their personal philosophies.  The danger of the early missions was really brought home to me – amazing to think what they achieved with such limited technology.

Seeing the movie sparked my interest in all things lunar, especially the intriguing Armstrong. Although I was initially put off by the words “authorised biography” (yawn), I read James Hanson’s  First Man : the life of Neil A. Armstrong and was happily surprised. The book is well researched, with great detail and I learned a lot about the man.  Armstrong also features in Moon Dust : in search of the men who fell to earth,  Andrew Smith’s attempt to track down and interview the moonwalkers.  His tales present a rather darker view of the moon experience, but is very entertaining.

One thing In the Shadow of the Moon doesn’t dwell on are the politics behind the Apollo voyages.  The Soviet- U.S. space race reflected the political climate of the 50s and 60s, when both nations were wanting to establish themselves as superpowers.  The book Dark Side of the Moon explores how the American government seized on the moon flights as a way of boosting public morale after World War II.  Again, it is a worthwhile read.

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