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I just finished Moondust, which is a really good read for anyone interested in the Apollo story. The author was a journalist working on a story about the Apollo astronauts, and he was interviewing one of the men who walked on the moon. During the interview the astronaut took a phone call, and came back a while later saying, "Now there's only nine of us." I believe it was Pete Conrad that had just died.

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.


I recently finished Rocket Men by Robert Kurson, about Apollo 8. That was great. But the ultimate book on Apollo for me is still Chaikin's 'Man on the Moon' which details all of the Apollo missions from interviews with the astronauts not too long after, as well as some of the pre-Apollo stuff (Gemini and Mercury).

Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff is also great to understand the test pilots from which most of the astronauts were picked.

I love the Chaikin book. It covers everything in so much detail, yet remains interesting throughout. The audiobook is also very well narrated, and at 23 hours is quite long, which I like.

It's sad. Most of them did not do well in later life.

Not really a wonder .. they where a special kind of men. Adrenalin junkys and very smart .. they had been Testpilot and Astronaut. What can you do after that .. what job can compete with that ..

They could go back to regular test piloting I guess. But I agree that anything would be unfulfilling compared to what they achieved.

Reminiscent of one of Tom Hanks' lines in Apollo 13 when Jim Lovell announces his retirement: "I'll be walking in a place where there is 400 degrees difference between sunlight and shadow. I can't imagine ever topping that."

Genuinely curious what do you mean by that?

Did they do meth/heroin type of stuff, have tumultuous personal life, or professionally they didn't achieve much after being astronauts ?

Buzz Aldrin had serious problems with depression and alcoholism for years.

They also had rather unique, severe, physical problems that are being studied in other astronauts (macular degeneration, joint problems, etc)

Isn't it sad, because we bought into the coldwar propaganda that this is something extremely valuable? I'm not saying that space exploration isn't worthwhile, I think it is. However, if they were framed as simply very skilled technicians, instead of heroes of a generation, would we feel this bizarre feeling of incongruity about their later lives?

The first humans to walk on another celestial body? I'd say that's a defining moment in human history alongside the discovery of fire, agriculture, metals, oil, plastic, flight, nuclear fission etc.

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.

It’s not really different from the first person standing on the South Pole. At the time we did not have the capability for people to live there making the trip pointless. Now that we have that capacity, we gained nothing from the first explores to make it to the South Pole.

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.

You're actually trying to argue that the Apollo program was not meaningful?

Let alone all exploration that doesn't result in immediate colonization?


It propelled technology:

> 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.



The microchip was invented in the 1950’s well before the Apollo program. Don’t get me wrong space flight is useful. But, going to the moon on it’s own is a tiny step in actually expanding civilization beyond earth.

In that context, the ISS as a long term space structure is a far larger achievement than walking on the moon.

The moon landing itself, that's reasonably fair. However given the overlap with Gemini (many experiments ended up having to be adapted on the fly), Apollo Applications (like ASTP and SkyLab) and subsequent programs that built off of them, there's quite a lot of scientific understanding and secondarily, technological advancement and international cooperation that couldn't have come as easily from sending robots for a lot of that.

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 rephrase, I'm not saying this isn't a historical milestone. Though since you're leaning quite heavily on this, I'll add that printed word is probably a bigger deal than most of the things you mentioned, even if it doesn't have the ring of space flight or nuclear fission. But, this is not what I meant to discuss.

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?

They are heros because they risked their lives. There was a serious chance of dying, but they went out there for something that was more of a benefit to other people than it was to them.

That's true, I guess I got carried off with my point and didn't think about what the journey was like for them. Though, it doesn't really retract from my point about misplaced idolization.

It most certainly was not just about cold war propaganda. The dream to reach for the heavens has existed since antiquity. ad astra per aspera, as the saying goes.

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