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 everyones psyche is frozen at the age they were when the first landing took place. Ive 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 theyd be straight, conservative military pilots and engineers, but they mostly werent - they were much more diverse and eccentric than Id expected. Only part way in did it dawn on me that they became pilots because theyd 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 theyd 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, Apollos 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 Id 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 Ive 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 weve made. The longer you look at the tools they had to work with, the more you wonder how they managed to pull it off. Thats why only 27 people have ever left Earth orbit and headed for Deep Space, all between the Christmases of 68 and72.
What about the moon conspiricists? Is there any chance that it was all a hoax?
Personally, Id 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 theres 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 Im telling, and Im glad theyre 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 ones left Earth orbit since 1972 is because, assuming you want to come back, its 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 dont 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.
Youre 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 Howards film about Apollo 13, the mission which nearly ended in disaster. Now my son asks me anxiously at regular intervals whether Ill have to go to the Moon, while my daughter simply informs me that Im not allowed to. So Ill have to wait until theyve left home, but in the meantime it makes an excellent threat when I want them to tidy their bedrooms.
What do you do after youve 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 Armstrongs example in getting back in touch with the fundamentals of the planet, start that goat farm youve always dreamed of.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.