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Moondust: In Search of the Men Who Fell to Earth [Paperback]

Andrew Smith
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (88 customer reviews)

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Book Description

6 Jan 2006
In 1999, Andrew Smith was interviewing Charlie Duke, astronaut and moon walker, for the Sunday Times. During the course of the interview, which took place at Duke's Texan home, the telephone rang and Charlie left the room to answer it. When he returned, some twenty minutes later, he seemed visibly upset. It seemed that he'd just heard that, the previous day, one of his fellow moon walkers, the astronaut Pete Conrad, had died. 'Now there' s only nine of us,' he said. Only nine. Which meant that, one day not long from now, there would be none, and when that day came, no one on earth would have known the giddy thrill of gazing back at us from the surface of the moon. The thought shocked Andrew Smith, and still does. "Moondust" is his attempt to understand why.

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Moondust: In Search of the Men Who Fell to Earth + Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut's Journeys
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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; New edition edition (6 Jan 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0264669045
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747563693
  • ASIN: 0747563691
  • Product Dimensions: 19.2 x 12.8 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (88 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 512,668 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'Smith's mix of reporting and meditation is highly entertaining, and this superb book is a fitting tribute to a unique band of twentieth-century heroes' GQ 'A moving and thorough account of America's last great act of optimism' Guardian 'Fascinating and disturbing. We know what happened inside the Apollo Space Craft, but what went on inside the astronauts' minds? Did any of them really recover from their strange journey? Extremely thought-provoking' J. G. Ballard 'Smith's mission - gloriously realised in this spellbinding book - is to seek out the last nine and discover how the decades have treated the only humans to have walked on another world ... a wonderful collective biography written with deftness, compassion and humour' Observer

From the Author

An interview with Andrew Smith

Do you think it makes a real difference to a person's character if they can remember the moon landings?

No, not to their character, but I do think a little corner of everyone’s psyche is frozen at the age they were when the first landing took place. I’ve noticed that when people who were children at the time talk about Apollo, they tend to sound like children again (this is true even for conspiracy theorists, I think). The moon landings mean so many different things to different people: someone called Apollo the last optimistic act of the Twentieth Century, which is glorious, but carries a kind of pathos, too.

You must have had a preconceived idea of what to expect from the moonwalkers. In what way were these expectations confounded?

I thought they’d be straight, conservative military pilots and engineers, but they mostly weren’t - they were much more diverse and eccentric than I’d expected. Only part way in did it dawn on me that they became pilots because they’d watched the pilots of World War II save us from Nazism; that c pilots were to them what rock stars became for me as a child. And that they’d been drafted.
And was it a very emotional experience?

It was very emotional as it involved revisiting a time when significant numbers of people believed that the world could be made better - where innocent optimism was still possible. My own adolescence was defined by Punk, industrial strife, unemployment and a feeling that the world would inevitably get worse, and I think this is why the Sixties are still fascinating to us, whether we experienced them or not. Like the Beatles and the Stones, Apollo’s bizarre tilt at the Moon could only have happened in that decade.

Which of the Astronauts made most of an impression on you?
They all did in different ways, even though my encounters with them varied wildly. Buzz Aldrin is such a complicated man, impenetrable one moment, then boyishly candid the next - I left his apartment feeling as though I’d gone twelve rounds with Mike Tyson (or perhaps Frank Bruno). On the other hand, Alan Bean, who became an artist when he left NASA, has extraordinary charisma and may well be the happiest man I’ve ever met. I came away feeling slightly different about the world and still feel lucky to have crossed his path.

The moon has cast a spell over man for millennia –– do you think that the lunar landings might have broken its mystique?

An interesting question, because some people had feared that it would (Tom Stoppard wrote a play about it, Jumpers). Had they carried on, I suppose they might have. But the fact that the landings only happened for three years, then stopped abruptly, seems to me to have increased the mystique - the moreso because going to the Moon looks even harder and more remote now than it did then, despite all the technological advances we’ve made. The longer you look at the tools they had to work with, the more you wonder how they managed to pull it off. That’s why only 27 people have ever left Earth orbit and headed for Deep Space, all between the Christmases of ‘68 and’72.

What about the moon conspiricists? Is there any chance that it was all a hoax?

Personally, I’d love to believe that the landings had been a hoax, because fooling the whole of humanity in that way, and maintaining the pretence for so long, would look to me like a greater technical and creative achievement than actually going. And arguably more significant. Unfortunately, anyone who looks at the issue seriously will see that, while there’s an impressive volume of rumour, heresay and myth, if you sift through the ‘evidence’ a piece at a time, you find that every last one falls down - often pretty abjectly. All the same, I see the conspiracy theorists as an important part of the story I’m telling, and I’m glad they’re there.

Do you think we could consider going back to the moon in the near future?

The Chinese have taken a characteristically careful, pragmatic approach, such as America and the USSR might have but for the strange set of circumstances which prevailed in 1961 (the year John F Kennedy capriciously launched his people at the Moon). Their ride will probably be less interesting, but they may get better results in the long term. At the same time, the difference between going into Earth orbit and going to the Moon is like the difference between climbing a hill and flying. The Chinese have only reached Earth orbit so far, which is pretty routine these days: and the reason no one’s left Earth orbit since 1972 is because, assuming you want to come back, it’s a very, very hard thing to do.

Many have reported a spiritual experience as a result of their visit to the lunar surface –– how do you think this can be accounted for?

I don’t want to give too much away here, but the most profound part of the experience seems not to have been standing on the Moon per se, but standing on the Moon looking back at the Earth and seeing its astonishing isolation.

You’re given the chance of going to the moon tomorrow –– do you go?

When I was researching the book, I let my two small children watch Ron Howard’s film about Apollo 13, the mission which nearly ended in disaster. Now my son asks me anxiously at regular intervals whether I’ll have to go to the Moon, while my daughter simply informs me that I’m not allowed to. So I’ll have to wait until they’ve left home, but in the meantime it makes an excellent threat when I want them to tidy their bedrooms.

What do you do after you’ve written a book about going to the moon?

Ideally, go on a long holiday, then choose something more sensible for your next book. Or, in an effort to follow Neil Armstrong’s example in getting back in touch with ‘the fundamentals of the planet,’ start that goat farm you’ve always dreamed of. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating - a real page turner 12 Feb 2006
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If anyone wants to re-awaken their interest in the Apollo moon landings then this book is a must read. I found it easy to follow, written with emotion and a dash of humour. It's full of stories from the astronauts who the author meets on his travels across the US. Nothing really new is revealed, but it gives an insight about what the Apollo programme was all about and how it changed the lives of the men who took part. The only thing missing I felt was some photographs perhaps of the astronauts then and now, or even of the moon landings themselves just to remind us of the pure magic of it all.
The most intriguing aspect of the book is the mystery surrounding the "first man on the moon", Neil Armstrong. I feel I can understand a little better about why he remains so distant. When my sons asked me what it was like to watch it all live on TV back then, I feel as daunted by that question as the astronauts must feel themselves when asked what it was like to "stand on the moon". Something not easy to put into words because it's a moment in time that passes so quickly and difficult to take in. This, I feel, is what most of the "moonwalkers" find the hardest question to answer. Moondust raises those un-answerable questions.
A fantastic read, Mr Taylor - A fascinating, intriguing book that really makes you think!
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable Astronaut-centric approach 18 April 2006
I thoroughly enjoyed this book - having read Andrew Chaikin's 'A Man on the Moon' a few months earlier.

Smith's book gives a real sense of the people involved, and the way in which he weaves stories of the various missions contributes to a holistic view of the whole program.

I'm not sure how much I would have enjoyed this without Chaikin's book, as that supplied the factual underpinning that allowed me to enjoy a more free form approach.

Anyway no point theorizing - this book gives a good alternative perspective and contains lots of information that you might not find elsewhere ( e.g. Aldrin refusing to photo Armstrong on the moon ! ). His sense of wonder at the entire project is infectious, and his diagnosis of type A maledom a lesson some of us might do well to take to heart.

This book never flags, and is never dull.
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and moving 21 Feb 2006
I have a friend who knows everything there is to know about the Apollo programme and I asked him if he'd read the book. Naturally he had, but he didn't like it. In his view there were far too many observations and recollections by the author and not enough hard facts.
I have to disagree. 'Moondust' is an unashamedly subjective evocation of the Space Age that is both extremely interesting and often very poignant. Whether you remember the Apollo missions or not, it is facinating to read about an era that felt as if it was the dawn of a new 'Space Age' (indeed, many people quiet reasonably assumed that if we could land a man on the moon in 1969, we'd have bases there by 2001).
In 'Moondust' author Andrew Smith has interviewed many of the surviving astronauts who went to the moon and instead of asking the obvious question - 'What was it like to be on the moon?' - he is more interested in how they coped with returning to their lives on earth, knowing that the highpoint of their lives was probably behing them.
That said, 'Moondust' has many fascinating facts about the Apollo missions, ranging from some humorous accounts of the difficulties in going to the loo in zero gravity to a description of how pilots often had to assume manual control to stop their craft from crashing into the lunar surface. But for me, the most memorable thing I learned was that NASA only paid the astronauts a few dollars a day while they were in space and actually deducted bed and board from their pay cheque!
When I discovered that this book was included in Richard and Judy's Book Club it seemed an odd choice, but now I've read it I can understand why. This is a fascinating, very readable book that most people should, I think, be able to enjoy.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars REACH FOR THE MOON 7 Mar 2006
In the years separating man from his last visit to the Moon , countless words have been written about what went on to get us there, what happened when we got there and when we're going back.
This book attempts to place in context all the trips and their relevance to us today in the 21st century. The author explores on a very human level what it meant for both the astronauts and those they left behind - family, friends and even us.
For whether we lived through the Appollo missions or like me were infants at the time - the impact the Moon landings had on all of us was and still is immense.
We may not have colonised space but our imaginations were allowed to grow and give free reign to dreams both technical and spiritual.
Without the Apollo flights there would be no Bill Gates, no Steve Jobs. Some would say great, but the world would be a far duller place. You probably wouldnt be reading this without the Moon Landings.
The author has written a potted social history of Apollo and hits the right note of being both fascinated and disenchanted by modern econimcs and its impingment on future Space Flight.
He touches on Politics, tourism and music but at the heart of the book lie the astonauts and there fascinating lives before and after the moon Landings. Some have disappeared from the public consciousness to pursue idealstic and cultural ideals others have embraced the stars and banners whirlwind touring of professional Moon Men - but all have intersting tales to tell.
Read the book - it may slow in parts but give it a go- stylistically it reads like a travelogue but it has great insight into Appollo - the human condition and the world we live in now.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars poor
The worst book I have ever read. A lot of personal waffle on the part of the writer indespersed with a collection of character assassinations. Read more
Published 9 days ago by mark hodges
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
This was a gift
Published 1 month ago by Isabel Kember
5.0 out of 5 stars Moondust
Brilliant read. Very evocative of the time. Bought it as a present for my daughter who is also enjoying it.
Published 9 months ago by Eileen Walton
5.0 out of 5 stars random but a good read
This was recommended to me and i am so glad it was. I never knew much about the moon landings and this covers loads of details that just aren't common knowledge.
Published 11 months ago by Miss A J Ling
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful read
Andrew Smith really did put together a super piece of work here.

Moondust is always captivating but it remains light and is often wistful, triumphing overall as it... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Mr. Gareth J. Stringer
4.0 out of 5 stars An act of discovery for the author
Like countless others around the world, Andrew Smith grew up through the moon landing years - 1969-72 - an island in time of unparalleled achievement and optimism. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Rich J Wilson
5.0 out of 5 stars review
great book written in sublimely casual voice. a chapter for each living astronaught, plus plus. beautifully threaded with memories of the sixties as a boy and reminders of the... Read more
Published 15 months ago by FREDRIK
5.0 out of 5 stars What Do You Do After You've Been To The Moon?
I wasn't alive when the Apollo space program was going on but I've always had a fascination with it & the people involved in it. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Lorna
5.0 out of 5 stars moonage daydream
This is a fascinating and very enjoyable account of the reminiscences of the astronauts of the Apollo space programme. Read more
Published 18 months ago by markr
5.0 out of 5 stars A gem.
Although it's based on interviews with almost all of the surviving moonwalkers, it's incorrect to look at the book as a collective biography. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Chrissyboy
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