My first introduction to the space race came at a very early age during a journey to Sunday school.
Each Sunday morning my Aunt would pick me up from home and we would walk to the Methodist church about 15 minutes away. We would be accompanied by a boy two or three years older than myself who informed me that a Russian rocket had crashed on the moon*.
My initial response must have been one of shock, but common sense soon took over as I reassured myself that it wasn’t OUR moon that they’d crashed into but the Russian moon.
Despite his attempts, my older companion could say nothing to convince me that the “Russian moon” was the very same one that we could see in England.
A few years later my school class started to follow the progress of the Apollo moon program, though after more than forty years I can’t recall whether the interest started with Apollo 7 or 8. Certainly there would have been more interest in the latter mission considering it was the first time man had broken away from the earth to travel to the moon. It was a genuinely historic achievement perhaps best signified by a photograph taken on the flight, of the blue earth rising above the grey wasteland of the moon.
From that time onwards I was fascinated by anything space related and was caught up in the excitement leading up to the moon landing and shared concern over the fate of Apollo 13.
There were other missions to the moon and while possible I followed the diminishing amount of news devoted to those missions. The media and the general public seemed to lose interest when the novelty started to fade. Familiarity was starting to get close to breeding contempt and the last few moon missions were scrapped as the lessened public interest led to politically expedient funding cuts.
For decades NASA’ s manned space programme plodded along almost unnoticed by the general public – except when tragedy added enough spice to attract attention again.
The Challenger disaster was the first time American astronauts were lost during a mission. Exactly 19 years and one day earlier three astronauts had died in a fire during training on Apollo 1 but that had occurred out of the public eye. Challenger exploded on our TV screens ending a highly publicised mission in which a civilian, a teacher, was intended to add a more positive note to American space flight history than actually eventuated.
That tragedy briefly undermined any misconceptions the public may have developed about the potential dangers associated with manned space exploration. But the necessity of a lengthy investigation into the tragedy meant that the public’s attention had again drifted by the time the space shuttle program resumed.
I recall my feelings at the time of the Challenger incident. Along with the obvious horror regarding the loss of life I realised that had I been given the chance, I would have immediately joined a shuttle crew myself, despite the obvious risk. I’m not sure I’d be so willing now, not through concern of the dangers but because I now have other priorities.
What is the relevance to all of this on a blog about books?
I suppose this background is merely an introduction. I am currently reading Andrew Chaikin’s book A Man on the Moon, a history of the Apollo astronauts and their mission to reach the moon. I also have several others on the same topic waiting to be read when I’ve finished Chaikin’s 600+ page book.
The others include an authorised biography of Neil Armstrong, Charlie Duke’s autobiography (an autographed copy I’ll be receiving for my birthday. Shhh! I’m not supposed to know) and two volumes by Colin Burgess and Frances French, Into That Silent Sea and In the Shadow of the Moon.
I also have an Alan Bean book on order about his artworks in which he has painted aspects of the moon landings.
His paintings are unique due to his personal involvement in the program (he was the fourth man to walk on the moon); his use of his space suit boots and tools from Apollo 12 to create interesting texture; and the incorporation of materials from his spacecraft and also moon dust within his paintings. Examples of his artwork can be seen here: Alan Bean
* This was probably Luna-5 which crashed during an attempted landing on 9 May 1965.