Thursday, July 30, 2009

To the moon

I was less than three years old when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon. That's some time before my earliest memory, so I have no direct recollection of the event. But like all Americans, my parents were riveted by the historic Apollo 11 mission. They took a picture of their TV screen showing the American flag being planted on the moon:

Maybe if I spent some time delving deeply into my past, I could find the connection between the space craze of my toddler years and my own obsession with science fiction a decade later. Whatever the reason, I bought deeply into the romance of the space program and fervently believed in the need for innovative missions and manned interplanetary flight.

A few weeks ago I read Buzz Aldrin's intriguing memoir Magnificent Desolation: The Long Journey Home From The Moon, and all those feelings came rushing back. I recognize that the whole endeavor is far more complex and problematic than it must have seemed in the heroic Apollo days. Yet I feel that humanity would be diminished if we let anything get in the way of exploration beyond the atmosphere.

My review of the book went up on the A.V. Club site today. If I do say so myself, I think it captures some of the hidden emotional facets of our love affair with NASA. It's by no means a masterpiece, yet some of its evident problems, frustrations, and difficulties as a work of autobiography reveal much about Aldrin's conflicted attitude toward the program that gave him an unparalleled opportunity on the final frontier. I'd be interested to know whether readers from other generations and backgrounds, those with a different personal history and different feelings -- or none -- about space travel, feel the same way about Magnificent Desolation.

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