I’m walking out of this with my little-boy astronaut bubble popped. I grew up watching THE WONDER YEARS with doe-eyed fascination of Neil Armstrong’s moon landing (isn’t that how the first episode started?) and waving America’s proud flag sense. After reading this, we’re still proud, but maybe not as attributable to the moon program as much as believed.
My shoulders may be slumped, but the author, Matthew D. Tribbe, makes an undeniable case. With precise surgical cuts he elucidates his position, presenting facts both culturally and scholarly. The book is summed up by the author’s containing statement: “Unlike the vast majority of scholarly works on Apollo, then, this book is not about the space program, but about the peculiarities of an American society that was shooting men to the moon semi-annually over the four-year period from 1968 to 1972 and then—just as important—stopped.”
Of those references, of which there are nearly 1,000 of them (20% of the end book is taken up with reference listings), what struck me personally were those tied to our culture, particularly movies and books. The author makes mention of John Updike and many others. I earlier referenced the Wonder Years. Interestingly, I just read Dave Eggers’s latest book (2014) that directly addressed the Apollo program and American disinterest and lack of continued commitment to the moon and shuttle program. The signs are there if we dig in and look. The author points them out in order, so they are hard to ignore.
In his set-up, the author states, “Americans were never as keen on the moon program as current public memory and myth suggest.” In examination of one study he says a “majority of Americans could not even remember the name of Neil Armstrong, hailed as a hero just a year prior.”
This isn’t all sad or the overly enthused (like myself; I thoroughly enjoyed Chris Hadfield’s book about being on the Space Station and what it took to get there). The author sums the space program in this brilliant quote: “Apollo was an expression of faith in the value of scientific discovery in a time of reaction against science, even against rationality. Apollo was an act of can-do optimism, of a belief in progress, in a time of reigning pessimism. Apollo was the work of a dedicated team, pursuing a well-defined goal, in a time of bitter confusion of national purpose. Apollo was, moreover, a success rising above so much failure.”
In other words, “[T]he successful moon landings [were] an example of Americans uniting to do big things.”
Thanks to Oxford University Press for providing an electronic review copy of this book: my space-age bubble is popped, but I can’t deny it.
You can preview this book on Amazon: No Requiem for the Space Age: The Apollo Moon Landings and American Culture
Or you can see it over at Powell’s: