Shortly after that, the author (Andrew Smith) decided to go find each of the men who had walked on the moon, and ask them what they'd done with their lives since walking on the moon. It's a wonderful mix of his own recollections of growing up when Apollo was happening, each of the astronaut's personal backstories and recollections of what it was like to be at the center of the Apollo program, and what life has been like after walking on the moon.
I can't recommend it highly enough. It's being re-issued this summer for the 50th anniversary of the first landing, but you can also order the original version from 2005.
Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff is also great to understand the test pilots from which most of the astronauts were picked.
Did they do meth/heroin type of stuff, have tumultuous personal life, or professionally they didn't achieve much after being astronauts ?
Just because we haven't fully achieved the potential of sending humans to space yet doesn't make it less of an achievement. Perhaps when we finally colonize space we'll appreciate how pioneering the Apollo program really was, especially as we forced it all through before we were even really ready, technologically.
Space exploration is meaningful when the first person is born, grows up, and has a kid on some other celestial body. Whoever that is will be a milestone worth remembering, until that point it’s just flags and video.
Let alone all exploration that doesn't result in immediate colonization?
> Here are some Apollo specific innovations: microchip, cordless tools, joystick, CAT scans, technology in MRI machines, modern shoe designs, freeze dried food, vacuum sealed packages, dampening material, retro-reflector (detects chemical leaks), water purification, silicon based storage of records, fly-by-wire, ground water cleaning, large fabric roofs used in landmark buildings, anti-tip rafts, insulation blankets, and countless others.
In that context, the ISS as a long term space structure is a far larger achievement than walking on the moon.
But partly I just disagree with the premise that we gained nothing by someone being the first to the South Pole. No one's going to send well-funded and well-equipped professional scientists until it's proven it can be done. The explorers who have to work on figuring out how to get there contribute to those who come after them with more certain paths. It's like saying we gained nothing by having Gemini dock with an Agena. Sure it was mostly a stunt in many respects, but they had to work out all the math and logistics behind rendezvous that made Apollo possible, and that we now use all the time on the ISS.
To come back to my point, the astronauts were singled out and idolized and that didn't have a bearing on reality. If today someone were to muster modern science into an astounding vehicle of marvelous engineering and ambition, and it would require a human technician to operate, and let's say I would be that technician, you wouldn't say that I'm a hero or a person of extreme merit, because I would be just a technician.
Enter framing. If I would operate the device or vehicle on some interesting journey, and I would then go off to shake hands with some politicians, and there was some incentive for the media apparatus to spin this in some simplistic, easily graspable way, they would have everything they needed, and I'd become a vivid symbol of that marvelous flowering of our civilization (or of US, given the Cold War context).
Will you ask the casual observer to grasp the grandiose complexity of what led to this event, or will you just give him a pawn-head in the form of an astronaut and say "idolize him", thus letting him confuse a flashy front-man for the real thing?