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Dark Side of the Moon: The Magnificent Madness of the American Lunar Quest

Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 321
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    Dark Side of the Moon
    Book Description:

    A selection of the History, Scientific American, and Quality Paperback Book ClubsFor a very brief moment during the 1960s, America was moonstruck. Boys dreamt of being an astronaut; girls dreamed of marrying one. Americans drank Tang, bought space pens that wrote upside down, wore clothes made of space age Mylar, and took imaginary rockets to the moon from theme parks scattered around the country.But despite the best efforts of a generation of scientists, the almost foolhardy heroics of the astronauts, and 35 billion dollars, the moon turned out to be a place of magnificent desolation, to use Buzz Aldrin's words: a sterile rock of no purpose to anyone. In Dark Side of the Moon, Gerard J. DeGroot reveals how NASA cashed in on the Americans' thirst for heroes in an age of discontent and became obsessed with putting men in space. The moon mission was sold as a race which America could not afford to lose. Landing on the moon, it was argued, would be good for the economy, for politics, and for the soul. It could even win the Cold War. The great tragedy is that so much effort and expense was devoted to a small step that did virtually nothing for mankind.Drawing on meticulous archival research, DeGroot cuts through the myths constructed by the Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson administrations and sustained by NASA ever since. He finds a gang of cynics, demagogues, scheming politicians, and corporations who amassed enormous power and profits by exploiting the fear of what the Russians might do in space.Exposing the truth behind one of the most revered fictions of American history, Dark Side of the Moon explains why the American space program has been caught in a state of purposeless wandering ever since Neil Armstrong descended from Apollo 11 and stepped onto the moon. The effort devoted to the space program was indeed magnificent and its cultural impact was profound, but the purpose of the program was as desolate and dry as lunar dust.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-4402-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. 1 Fly Me to the Moon
    (pp. 1-11)

    Lagari Hasan Celebi is probably the first person to have flown. He built a rocket, packed it with 25 kilos of gunpowder and put on top a conical wire cage, into which he climbed. A friend then lit the fuse and a great explosion threw Celebi from his launch pad on the banks of the Bosphorus 300 meters into the air. At his apogee, he opened some homemade wings and drifted safely back to Earth. Or so it is claimed.

    The year was 1623. Celebi performed the stunt to impress Sultan Murad IV on the occasion of his daughter Kaya’s...

  6. 2 Slaves to a Dream
    (pp. 12-28)

    For some people, rockets are erotic. The tall, slender, phallic tube sits on its pad while men who yearn for youth trade in techno-babble. The adventure appeals to most boys, some men, very few girls, and almost no women. Freud probably had a lot to say about this sort of thing, and would have said even more had he lived long enough to witness a thrusting V-2 raping the atmosphere. Most boys grow out of rockets around the time they become interested in girls. A small percentage don’t, however, and they often become rocket scientists.

    Just after the First World...

  7. 3 What Are We Waiting For?
    (pp. 29-44)

    Stalin had calculated that his forces would reach Peenemünde before the Americans, but when they arrived the cupboard was bare. “There was hardly a German sufficiently competent to talk about the V-2 and other big stuff,” Grigory Tokady, a Russian rocket scientist sent to investigate immediately after the German defeat, later revealed. “Many, almost all, claim[ed] to be V-2 experts … [but they] displayed the typical characteristics of a second-rater.” Stalin could hardly contain his fury. “This is absolutely intolerable,” he spat. “We defeated Nazi armies; we occupied Berlin and Peenemünde, but the Americans got the rocket engineers. What could...

  8. 4 Sputnik
    (pp. 45-60)

    Within American politics, those to the left of Robert Heinlein numbered nearly two hundred million, while those to the right could hardly fill a bus. The science fiction novelist didn’t think much of the way President Harry Truman was looking after the security of the United States. The nation, he thought, had a clear-cut and dangerous enemy, but was doing nothing substantial to confront it. Eager that Americans should wake up to the dangers threatening them, he decided to weave his political message into his fiction. The result was the filmDestination Moon(1951), on which Heinlein collaborated with the...

  9. 5 The Red Rocket’s Glare
    (pp. 61-78)

    John Williams of Melbourne, Florida, was having trouble with his garage door. The damn thing was opening by itself at all hours of the day and night. The first time it happened, at 2:00 a.m., he woke up and thought someone was trying to steal his car. He grabbed his gun, ran outside, but found no one. He assumed the thief had fled.

    Then it happened again. And again.

    It finally dawned on him that something must be wrong with the electronic mechanism that opened the door. He called the firm that installed it and explained the problem. They said...

  10. 6 Muttnik
    (pp. 79-99)

    Sometime in 1956, an analyst at RAND came up with a really clever way of getting a jump on the Russians. W. W. Kellogg decided that an atom bomb could be attached to a rocket and fired at the Moon. Timed to explode just before hitting the lunar surface, it would send an astounding visual display back to Earth. Within RAND, the idea didn’t go very far, since analysts were busy with more important matters and, in any case, the United States at that point couldn’t put a grapefruit into orbit, much less send an atom bomb to the Moon....

  11. 7 Rocket Jocks
    (pp. 100-120)

    The 1958 World’s Fair, held in Brussels, was seen by the Soviets as an opportunity to show off. Their pavilion, the largest of all, focused on the progress made since the Bolshevik Revolution. The centerpiece was a display showcasing full-size replicas of the first three Sputniks.

    Slightly smaller was the American pavilion, which also celebrated progress, but of a different sort. Displays provided a window on the riches of ordinary American life—television, fashion, cosmetics, appliances, etc., etc., etc. Everywhere people were eating burgers, hot dogs, ice cream, and popcorn. Anyone worried about the complacency of American society and the...

  12. 8 Before This Decade Is Out
    (pp. 121-152)

    After all the attention given to space in his campaign, Kennedy hardly mentioned the matter in his inaugural address. He concentrated instead on foreign affairs, rousing the American people with a call to arms, which, through brilliant writing, managed to sound like a noble crusade. The only mention of space came halfway through the speech when Kennedy expressed his regret at the way the Cold War had divided the world. He offered the Soviets some vague areas in which cooperation and trust might be fostered. “Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors,” he...

  13. 9 The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters
    (pp. 153-182)

    When James Webb took over NASA, around 6,000 people worked for the agency. When he left in 1968, his payroll numbered nearer 60,000. But that’s no indication of the real growth of the space industry, since seven out of every eight workers involved in Apollo were employed by private contractors.

    Now let’s suppose that every day, each of those 500,000 workers spent a dime on a candy bar from a vending machine at the plant. Okay, some might have been on a diet, but others perhaps had a Babe Ruth and a Butterfinger on the same day, so dieters and...

  14. 10 Lost in Space
    (pp. 183-204)

    The image of America in the 1960s is often one of turmoil (assassinations, war, protest) mixed with hedonistic fun (sex, drugs, rock and roll). But what analysts often fail to appreciate is that, for so many Americans, the space adventure was an all-consuming distraction that diverted their attention away from the domestic and international crises usually associated with the decade. Instead of looking at the problems around them, many Americans cast their gaze skyward. America was lost in space.

    Television schedules were packed with space themes. Hollywood offered a romantic comedy (I Dream of Jeannie), two slapstick sit-coms (My Favorite...

  15. 11 Sacrifices on the Altar of St. John
    (pp. 205-222)

    Roy Neal, the former NBC reporter who covered NASA from the early days of Mercury through the space shuttle, once revealed that the first astronauts were all required to give an “obit” interview to be played in the event they were killed in the line of duty. The standard message went: “Exploring space is a dangerous business and lives will be lost. I am not afraid to die doing what I love, nor should my death in any way cause delays in the conquest of space.” Glenn, Cooper, Schirra and Shepard all performed the mandatory duty.

    So too did Gus...

  16. 12 Merry Christmas from the Moon
    (pp. 223-232)

    On May 6, 1967, at a dinner to celebrate the sixth anniversary of the first American in space, Alan Shepard signaled that it was time to resume the race:

    Much has … been said about the cause and effects of the fire. In this case, perhaps too much…. All of us here tonight jointly share the responsibilities for the human frailties which are now so apparent—and for the insidious combination of materials and equipment which was so devastating in their behavior….

    The time for recrimination is over. We have digested enough historical evidence. There is much to be done....

  17. 13 Magnificent Desolation
    (pp. 233-254)

    NASA was rushing to get to the Moon, in order to meet President Kennedy’s goal. Carrying out the task on time was much more important than anything that might be found, or done, on the lunar surface. Away from Houston, however, others were dreaming of something much more sublime. In November 1967, the Reverend Terence Mangan published detailed architectural plans for a chapel on the Moon. “The moon chapel is not just one more or one other ‘service’ or ‘gathering place,’” he explained.

    It is the reassurance of the Christian pilgrim of tomorrow, who has exchanged staff for space helmet,...

  18. 14 Nothing Left to Do
    (pp. 255-270)

    Going to the Moon was supposed to be the first step. Where Apollo went, ordinary people would follow. In 1968, PanAm began to take bookings for itsClipperflights to the Moon, scheduled to depart in the year 2000. One of the first to reserve a seat was Governor Ronald Reagan. Executives at Hilton Hotels meanwhile began musing about the possibility of building an underground resort on the Moon. A confident Tom Paine predicted that “by 1984 a round trip, economy-class rocketplane flight to a comfortably orbiting space station can be brought down to a cost of several thousand dollars,”...

  19. Notes
    (pp. 271-288)
  20. Bibliography
    (pp. 289-292)
  21. Index
    (pp. 293-320)
  22. About the Author
    (pp. 321-322)