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Moondust: In Search of the Men Who Fell to Earth

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In time for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing comes this edition of journalist Andrew Smith’s Moondust , now updated with a new Afterword, that tells the fascinating story of twelve astronauts who ventured to space, and his interviews with nine of the surviving men. The Apollo lunar missions of the 1960s and 1970s have been called the last optimistic acts of the twentieth century. Twelve astronauts made this greatest of all journeys and were indelibly marked by it, for better or for worse. Journalist Andrew Smith tracks down the nine surviving members of this elite group to find their answers to the question "Where do you go after you've been to the Moon?" A thrilling blend of history, reportage, and memoir, Moondust rekindles the hopeful excitement of an incandescent hour in America's past when anything seemed possible as it captures the bittersweet heroism of those who risked everything to hurl themselves out of the known world—and who were never again quite able to accept its familiar bounds.

384 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2005

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About the author

Andrew Smith

5 books68 followers
I was born in New York, but have lived most of my life in the UK and started out as a journalist, just writing and writing at Melody Maker, then The Face, Sunday Times and Observer. The engine of my work is always curiosity: my first book, 'Moondust', stemmed from me wondering what had happened to the 12 men who walked on the Moon between 1969 and '72; my second from bewilderment at the way Web 1.0, the wild first phase of the internet, imploded and vanished so mysteriously in 2000.

These days I also make the odd documentary film, most notably 'Being Neil Armstrong' and 'To Kill a Mockingbird at 50' for BBC4. I'm currently part way into a novel (based on copious research about real events) and into adapting 'Totally Wired' for TV.

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Profile Image for Bionic Jean.
1,228 reviews1,062 followers
March 1, 2023
Moondust: In Search of the Men Who Fell to Earth is a unique account by the journalist Andrew Smith, recording the experiences of the 9 remaining astronauts who went to the moon. As he says:

"Of over 400 people who have now been into Space, only 27 have ever left Earth's orbit and seen her from the perspective of Deep Space - all American and all between the Christmases of 1968 and 1972."

In 2005, Andrew Smith realised that there would only be a short time left for this account to be written from their perspectives. Only a dozen astronauts had actually landed on the Moon. The majority of the Apollo astronauts merely orbited it. Of those twelve, three had died, and the rest were ageing. The youngest was Charlie Duke, of Apollo 16, and he was 69. He reports:

"I wondered whether the Moonwalkers had reconciled themselves to being Earthbound; whether they'd made peace with their world or continued to mourn their strangled hopes."

Andrew Smith brings his own experience of the Moon programme to bear on the story, making it part autobiography, part biography and part social, political and cultural commentary. This projects us right inside, because not only is the experience shared by all of us who remember that time, it is also what NASA and the media wanted us to experience. Most of the astronauts reported one common experience, which was an awareness of how insignificant humans were.

Neil Armstrong remembered standing on the Moon, and noticing he could blot out the Earth with his thumb. Surely that must have made him feel really big. But "No," he replied, "It made me feel really, really small."

This emotional reaction was repeated over and over again, as all nine astronauts were deeply affected by experiencing such a unique perspective of Earth, and one admits to breaking down in tears on the Moon's surface. Here's yet another:

“When I review my travels among the astronauts, my mind's eye goes first to the Houston shopping mall where Alan Bean sat for hours after returning from space, just eating ice cream and watching the people swirl around him, enraptured by the simple yet miraculous fact they they were there and alive in that moment, and so was he.”

The book is always interesting, both in detailing the early experiences of the astronauts and reporting their later years. It is startling to learn how wildly differently the individual astronauts have reacted and now behave. John Young, from Apollo 16, later flew the first space shuttle. In his interview he apparently directed every remark to the wall behind Andrew Smith! Neil Armstrong, whose reticence in interviews was famous, offered to send a few emails, plus some details of his mission's technical parameters. Nothing else was forthcoming.

Buzz Aldrin's alcoholism became infamous. A fellow astronaut commented:

"He resents more not being the first man on the Moon more than he appreciates being the second This could perhaps explain the absence of lunar pictures of Neil Armstrong. Even when Buzz Aldrin was specifically asked to take a photograph, he refused to take a single one of his commander, claiming that he was "too busy".

Charlie Duke, from Apollo 16, also became an alcoholic, filled with such rage that he bullied both his wife, Dotty, and children until they found God, or as Andrew Smith puts it: "eventually becoming the Lord's Sonny and Cher".

Other astronauts had also had quasi-religious experiences. Ed Mitchell said that when he returned in his Apollo 14 capsule, he glimpsed "an intelligence in the Universe and felt connected to it". This led to him setting up the "Institute of Noetic Sciences". On googling this, one finds some very strange stuff indeed. Al Bean of Apollo 12 gave up flying to become an artist. However he also seems obsessed by his experience, and only ever paints variations on one scene - the lunar surface.

Jack Schmitt, of Apollo 17, became a Republican Senator. However, he only lasted one single term in office.

It must admittedly be wearing to be asked, what is it like to walk on the Moon? How can anyone answer such a question? Andrew Smith reports that the late Pete Conrad, of Apollo 12, merely gave the same snappy answer every time, saying: "Super! Really enjoyed it!"

But the opposite end of the spectrum reveals the saddest case of all. David Scott, of Apollo 15, was disgraced for smuggling stamped letters to the Moon. His reputation was in tatters, and then to seal his fate, the "Daily Mail" newspaper reported him having an affair with the newsreader Anna Ford, five years before this book was published. This all seems very censorious and poignant to modern eyes, especially since his plan to sell the letters was not actually illegal, if not strictly conducted openly. But it was intended to raise cash to send his children through college, which he could never have managed on his astronaut's salary. Incredible as it may sound, the Apollo astronauts were simply paid the same rate as they had been when in the army! They were paid just $8 a day, minus deductions for their free bed on the Apollo mission. Buzz Aldrin still had a framed receipt on his wall, which says:

"From Houston to Cape Kennedy, Moon, Pacific Ocean. Amount claimed: $33.31."

The circumstances surrounding the early trips make for surprising reading too. These men seemed to have little in common, except that fact that they were all either eldest siblings or only sons. Interestingly, but perhaps not significantly, they nearly all chose Country and Western tapes to play on their Apollo voyages, and, of course, they all walked on the Moon. But having created these superheroes who were carted round in a jeep afterwards, and used to glorify the USA, NASA paid them off with a pittance. They were then dumped, and left to struggle with the physical, emotional and possibly spiritual consequences of their fame. Not one of them was properly equipped to deal with his "fall back to Earth". What could they possibly do with rest of their lives, once they had been to the Moon?

However, this is a very unusual and fascinating collective biography. Written by a journalist, it is competent, and shows both compassion and humour. Andrew Smith describes the Apollo programme as:

"the most mind-blowing theatre ever created".

Even if it did not tell us much we did not know about the Moon, what comes across is the way it has provided many insights into how we look at ourselves. These Apollo lunar missions have been called "the last optimistic act of the 20th century". And the enormous achievement of landing on the Moon did make us think, for a while, that anything was possible.

“Was Apollo worth all the effort and expense? If it had been about the Moon, the answer would be no, but it wasn't, it was about the Earth. The answer is yes. The only thing I can't see in all this is a rationale for going back. Unless we could find a way to take everyone.”


The nine astronauts speaking in this book were:

Neil Armstrong
Buzz Aldrin
Charlie Duke
John Young
Ed Mitchell
Al Bean
Jack Schmitt
Pete Conrad
David Scott
Profile Image for B Schrodinger.
305 reviews659 followers
May 24, 2014
I'm finding it hard to write this review. Not due to the book at all, just due to my own problems. I listened to the audio book of this the last couple of weeks at the gym. And it was very entertaining and interesting, it kept me at the gym for longer than I would have listening to music. But I'd class my audio comprehension as slightly retarded. That styrofoam ball that my sister dared me to shove up my nose when I was six never came back out. I have a feeling that the section of my brain that deals with audio input consists of something that floats really well and responds to static electricity like crazy.

This is the style of non-fiction investigation books that I love. It's the same style as Mary Roach and Will Storr in that it is written as a personal investigation filled with interviews and encounters with people close to the subject. Here the journey starts when Andrew learns of the death of one of the Apollo astronauts and hears the news say "And now there are only nine left". This get's him thinking of what happens when there are none left, how the nine who are left have changed and are dealing with their strange pasts and what has humanity gained from this strange enterprise that occurred 40 years ago.

The main body of the work consists of interviews with Apollo astronauts, the history of their missions and personal accounts by the author of the history and time that these events occurred within. All of the astronauts are fascinating and different, each have lead a different path since getting back home. All of them had changed as a result of the trip. But this isn't just a book full of the words of the astronauts. Andrew has filtered them (some needed filtering) and tried to get to the essence of each personality and what makes these men tick. And in a larger way, what made the Apollo program tick, the United States at the time tick, and even the world. It seems like a big task, but Andrews astute observations resonate and have great meaning, despite approaching the problem from a humanistic as opposed to scientific way. And he made a scientist like myself understand what he was talking about without me shutting off and thinking that it was all just airy-fairy liberal arts talk.

I really wish I could put some quotes in here to give you an idea of how switched-on Andrew is, but I don't have the book in front of me. There is no question that I think this is a great book and I'm ordering a copy of it on my next book purchase. Not only to have a copy for myself (the audiobook was from the library), but to actually sit down and read this with my full attention. I feel that only then can I write a fitting review and a fitting score. This read could well be a 5-star read, and I have a sneaking suspicion that it will be.

So I guess the message that you can all take away from this is that it is a brilliant read that could possibly be a top-notch read. It looks at the Apollo program from a humanistic approach and is full of wit, insight and respect. I just hope I can do it the justice of a more accurate and deserving review next time.

EDIT (5 minutes later): SCREW IT I'M GIVING IT 5 STARS.
60 reviews14 followers
May 2, 2014
First, let's lament the unfortunate cover of this new edition. Here's the old one:

Okay, onward: I actually read each chapter at least twice before moving on. I've never done a neurotic escapade like that with a book before, but I didn't want it to end.

Part memoir, part essayist account, part historic narrative (the description of the Eagle landing here is the best, sorry Andrew Chaikin), Moondust is more than a search for the last surviving men who walked on the moon. It's also NOT a technological history, and I find those criticisms of the book unwarranted - this is a cultural analysis and it should be evaluated as such. There are so many accounts and reports of the engineering side of things (there is actually an entire book on just the statistics of the Apollo project), so you can get your fix elsewhere for how much memory the 1964 Block I prototype of the AGC had.

We know that cultural depictions of the Apollo program and its astronauts are oversaturated with idealization to a blinding level (cue the opening credits of From the Earth to the Moon), yet they're just so pervasive, aren't they? We put a flag on the moon! The ubiquity of this image and it's meaning has been sterilized and packaged again and again as a succinct summation of the whole process. Even Neil deGrasse Tyson's recent heralded book provided a bland glossed-over treatment of the Apollo program. Now, in 2013, all those incredible 50th anniversaries will steadily accelerate in frequency and then suddenly stop, coupled with the inevitable death of the last remaining 'original' astronauts. Time to start reconciling.

The Space Race has largely evaded (popular) criticism; an astounding feat in an era filled with textbook case studies of civil and technological drama. However, the glories of the Space Race, and Apollo in particular, occupy a steadfast place in the American mythos. Going to another world is an absolute symbol of modernity, but for all its perceived optimistic advancement, the astronaut's tale is a sad story indeed. Amidst the default appliqué of astronaut grit and glamour, Smith conveys the shared contemplative melancholy of the moonwalker with a pizazz Tom Wolfe would admire. The bleakness of the moon is comparable only to the science fiction conventions and Scenes From A Reno Hotel Bar.

But it's not just about the astronauts, of course not. It's about all of us and the embedded exploratory nature that humans cannot shake; the desire and need for the hero pioneer and the Promethean outcome of it all. Manifest destiny as a space opera is a straightforward outward expansion, but the subsequent inward transformation of the explorer is much more nuanced - and this is where Smith's interpretation excels. He isn't simply de-heroifying the astronauts or chalking the Space Race up to Cold War muscle flexing or unfettered idealism. No; Apollo, and it's place in our collective memory, is much more complicated than that. In markedly few words, Smith is able to convey these tensions without resorting to cliche: outwardly, nationalistic ambitions and courage; inwardly, profoundly intimate disappointment and awe.

If this makes it seem like the book's an existential despair fest (the best kind of fest), it's not. The great thing about the Space Race is the absurdity of it all - both in its lunacy (!) and Capital-A Camus Absurdity. Smith writes candidly about the depths of his wonder, ranging from arbitrary to profound and back again. His search for meaning diverges from the common narratives that we all know, and that's what makes this book spectacular. As he goes from interview to interview, his chattering internal monologue captures this conflict. And you can't help but feel that the astronauts are equal parts flattered and amused to be caught up in it all (except maybe Charlie Duke).

It's with the gonzo journalism slant that Smith is able to ask the question that is never, but desperately needs to be, asked:

WTF was that?
Profile Image for Tony.
151 reviews32 followers
July 11, 2020
Taking a slightly different approach to chronicling the moon landings, the author tracks down and interviews the remaining “moonwalkers” about how they got there, what it felt like, and how they adapted to life back down here. The result is a fascinating mix: a non-linear history of the moon landings, combined with some social history, travel writing, and a dose of autobiography. It’s also quite a thoughtful book, musing on the significance of the moon landings (and the whole space programme), hoax theories, and the possible future of spaceflight.
Profile Image for Daisy.
193 reviews68 followers
March 9, 2021
Despite the Apollo landings being a triumph of technology and ideology, a shot over the boughs of the cold war and an act of political legerdemain during the messy Vietnam war, this book ended up being profoundly human and an exploration of the questions that haunt us all.
The author was a kid in California at the time Armstrong set foot on the moon, and as he turns 40 a chance encounter with one of the 12 men to have ever set foot on the moon sets him off on a journey to find them and discover how the experience affected them. It is not lost on Smith that they all made their mark at around the age he is at writing and the question of how do you spend the remainder of your years, is the rest of life after that pinnacle just a disappointment - essentially the mid-life crisis fears that plague the earthbound in equal measure.
What he finds is a group of men (only 9 remained during his mission) who dealt with the extraordinary experience in largely one of two ways. Those who were the more academic section of Nasa used the experience to contemplate their place in the world, the earth's place in the vastness of space and channel that into more artistic and spiritual endeavours and largely seem happy with their lot in life. Those who were from more military backgrounds saw the missions as the victory bell of the cold war, of continuing the American pioneer spirit into worlds beyond our own and have grown increasingly bitter that space exploration never progressed beyond their own achievement.
Although some of the astronauts he meets are a lot easier to warm to than others, reading the history of the journey to the moon one cannot be anything but struck by the bravery and single mindedness of the men. I remember being at primary school and sitting in stunned silence having just watched the Challenger shuttle explode, so the risks were huge especially considering we have more powerful computers in our cars than they had in their rockets.
Some parts are incredibly moving, the tragic deaths of men killed during training that allowed the men we know to have their chance, the men trying to describe the feelings and views they had out there in space and realising that our earth bound language did not have the words to do so. But most moving was the transcript of the first space walker Ed White, where he is so struck by the beauty of being out there, floating in space that he pretends he doesn't hear commands to return to the capsule and after describing it as beautiful laments that leaving is the saddest day of his life. A statement made indescribably poignant by his death 4 months later when Apollo 1 exploded with the crew inside.
A wonderful, wonderful book full of the type of men we won't see the like of again.

Lemonjelly used the Ed White recording in their track Space Walk which is worth a listen https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u5VRo...
Profile Image for Jenny.
23 reviews1 follower
March 22, 2012
This is a book about people rather than technology, or rather, the impact of technology on people. Those looking for a detailed and factual account of the Apollo Moon Landings will be disappointed. Those, like me, who know the official narrative but want answers to the questions no-one thought to ask, will love it.

The basic premise of the book is simple: what does it do to a man to leave earth and stand on another world? To answer this question, the author interviews the remaining "moonwalkers", their colleagues and families and the results are always interesting and often surprising.

The selection and training programme for Apollo overwhelmingly favoured the high achieving thrill seekers, prosaic men who were not given to introspection. Such men may be expected to take even something as profound as walking on the moon in their stride, and for the most part they did. But none were unaffected by their experiences.

Those who had latent artistic or intuitive attributes were changed forever, one becoming a full time artist and two veering off into different types of religion. Nonetheless I was left with the feeling that by sending jock test-pilots to the moon, mankind missed out on a unique opportunity. To read these practical, here-and-now men fumbling to describe what it felt like to look back on earth, to walk on the moon, to be so profoundly isolated was rather like hearing a blind-from-birth man trying to describe colours. These men, through no fault of their own, did not have the capacity to reflect on or abstract from their experiences. They did not succeed in creating meaning from what they had done, though it was clear that in their own way, each of them had been on a lifelong quest to do so ever since.

This is a wonderful book for anyone interested in people and ideas. It raises many more questions than it answers, and that is its strength. A beautifully written book to engage with on many levels.
Profile Image for Nick Davies.
1,517 reviews40 followers
May 25, 2017
Despite having a slightly contrived aim (the author decided he wanted to track down the nine remaining men, at time of writing, who had walked on the surface of The Moon) and despite me not being a gigantic super-fan of astronomy, I did enjoy this book and find it interesting. Another random punt picked up from a charity shop proving to be a very good choice.

The main strength of the book is the writing. In another author's hands interviews with a series of American men in their sixties/seventies might've been a bit dull - esp. considering there's plenty of similarities between the biographies and natures of the (many ex-military, many engineering background) men involved. Smith puts it all in historical and cultural context, and succeeds in fleshing out the facts of the moon landings with a certain depth and humanity, without getting too bogged down in science or too carried away with new-age and spiritual considerations of the time. Plenty to stimulate further interest.
Profile Image for Jennifer Ozawa.
152 reviews68 followers
September 23, 2019
This book does something that most other books about the space race don’t manage to do: make the men who went to the moon seem human. Those men are heroes, but they’re people and I want to know about them.

This is a chronicle of a crazy road trip that brought the author close to the men involved in the Apollo mission. I loved meeting the astronauts, but I loved reading about Smith’s adventures too, especially seeing him as a Brit finding out more about his adopted country. He’s funny and his voice is friendly and familiar.
Profile Image for Fern Adams.
800 reviews53 followers
August 21, 2022
I listened to the audiobook of this following it being one of my libraries to picks for August. It was fascinating and such a fantastic listen. In a sort of investigative journalist style Smith endeavours to find out more about the last nine astronauts who have been to the moon. Through his interviews and detective work we learn about what came next for them after their experiences that so few can relate to yet most people wonder at. There was also lots of information too about the space missions and what made each Astronaut who are they are as a person.

The whole book was really engaging and so interesting to listen to that I gave up the large part of a nights sleep to make it to end. Smith while making plenty of observations, hypothesis and conclusions cleverly allows each astronaut to be able to shine through entirely as individuals. He doesn’t stick to just the obvious questions either but successfully gets to the answers of what is it like to be each person and how do they perceive the world. Highly recommend this one!
Profile Image for John.
449 reviews5 followers
August 23, 2008
After the death of Pete Conrad in a motorcycle accident, Smith sets out to interview the nine Apollo moonwalkers who are still alive. In his interviews, Smith focuses on discovering how the astronauts were changed by their trip to the moon, and what the trip meant to them. And while the interviews are fascinating (I was born too late to appreciate the Apollo program while it was happening, but I was obsessed with it in the last few years of the seventies, as the program's crazy glory faded and it became clear that we were probably never going back to the moon) Smith's own meditations on the waning years of the sixties and his own life are equally interesting. There are probably better books about the history of the Apollo program out there, but I thought this one was damn good.
Profile Image for Emma .
100 reviews
January 19, 2015
I'm sorry to say I didn't really enjoy this. The purpose of the book sounded fascinating (man goes to moon, returns, life is ruined forever) but in reality this pitch was stretched wafer thin. The book felt like it ought to have been an interesting long article, but instead you have loads of navel gazing filler from the author - "weren't the sixties just great let me tell you all about it..." um, no ta.
Profile Image for Aurélien Thomas.
Author 10 books105 followers
November 12, 2019
Between July 1969 and December 1972, an handful of men lived an exceptional experience, incredible, inspiring and how enviable: walking the surface of the moon. Andrew Smith went on decades later to go and meet them to try and know, not only what became of them, but, also and above all, how they might have been affected by such an odyssey on a deeply human level.

From Neil Armstrong retiring from public life to Alan Bean turning artist whose pictures reflect his obsession with lunar landscapes; from Buzz Aldrin who had to fight depression and alcoholism to Jim Irwin, having left NASA to become a pastor; or, again, Edgar Mitchell, him too trying to conciliate science and religion with his New Age movement IONS (Institute of Noetic Science) here's way more than a collective biography of men out of the ordinary. Here's also, indeed, a book leaving thoughtful about our eventual (if at all!) future in space.

Thing is, will we go back to the moon? Are we ready to send people on Mars? Behind the enthusiasm created by such potential adventures, pierces the bitterness coming with now living in absurdly risk-averse societies, plagued by bureaucracies and red tapes, and where political short term thinking leaves no space for dreams. The parallels with the daring spirit of the 1960s, that Andrew Smith describes here brilliantly, cannot but strike whose dreaming about the stars... No, not everything was solely about beating the Russians to their own game!

Sadly, too, as the author keeps reminding again an again, the fact is that those men are also a dying breed; and so we are not far of from the time when not one being on this planet will left having experienced such an extraordinary deed - leaving the orbit of the Earth to walk an extra-terrestrial land.

It might be a bit bitter, but, still, 'Moondust' , portraying a few admirable astronauts reflecting what mankind is capable to achieve, remains a wonderful read!
286 reviews1 follower
October 10, 2022
Non-fiction. The writer sets out to track down those who have walked on the moon. A dying breed.
Profile Image for sisterimapoet.
1,138 reviews17 followers
December 22, 2007
I found the author far more interesting that the astronauts. I liked his speculations of why we are fascinated with the moon. I liked his thoughts on how the moon landings fitted in with history at the time. I like his reflections on his childhood. I loved the thoughts of proximity and distance that this book prompted.
Profile Image for lapetitesouris.
165 reviews13 followers
February 6, 2017
There is nothing to say aside from this book is absolute magic and you should all read it. Beautifully written and captivating from start to finish. I didn't want it to end.
Profile Image for ^.
907 reviews58 followers
January 27, 2015

Find my personal ‘Quote of the Book’ on pg.319::
“Pete Conrad used to defuse the question [of what was it like to stand on the Moon] by answering “Super! Really enjoyed it!”.”

Then place a bookmark on pg 32 where a crew list for the Apollo missions (11, 12, 14, 15, 16, 17) which reached the surface of the Moon can be found. Further detailed information is to be found in the Appendix at the back of Michael Collins’ superb 1974 book “Carrying The Fire”.

If you’re reading either of the 2006 or 2009 Bloomsbury paperbacks; the pagination is identical.

Right, now let’s go …

It is firstly important to grasp is a sense of perspective. The Space Shuttle patrolled a mere 200 miles above earth. Project Apollo was of a different order of magnitude entirely; travelling 240,000 miles into deep space to reach our planet’s Moon. It was only from Apollo that the entirety of our round, blue, world was seen, hanging there without a picture hook, in Space. By contrast, the Space Shuttle has, alas, though importantly, been but an interesting earth-tethered experiment in the feasibility of generating commercial interest in Space.

To me, the strength of Andrew Smith’s book lies in the clear and shining proof of his structured, gentle, but insatiable, curiosity. But I so nearly didn’t get there. This book begins with his childhood memories, living in California, of the day that Apollo 11 landed on the Moon. I have both heard and read to saturation point too many individual memories of the genre “Where I was, and what I was doing, when X happened”: admittedly where X is most commonly the death of John Lennon, or of Diana, Princess of Wales, or of JR Ewing; or of ….. NO MORE. PLEEEESE!!!

I was also less than enthusiastic when, by now feeling thoroughly uncomfortably unsettled, I sensed that the direction of this book just might be heading off towards nothing much more than a predictable series of trite interviews with a gaggle of astronauts.

How wrong could I have been? And what IS the collective noun for astronauts?

Smith’s writing developed and began to stalk me. Here I found a man who seemed almost as interested in the tech of Project Apollo (and mention of Mercury & Gemini) as in the makeup of the astronauts. I smiled at his description of Dick Gordon [Command Module Pilot (CMP), Apollo 12]) on pg 82: “He talks about space the way your neighbour might discuss aphids over the garden fence.” he discusses the engineers, and other staff at NASA; and the politics of it all (Moon first, safety (almost) last: pg 150: “The Lunar Module [LM] has been compared to a Stradivarius violin in the artfulness of its design and construction, but its fuel oxidiser was one of the most corrosive substances on Earth. A miniscule leak and the ‘Eagle’ [Apollo 11] would eat itself.”).

Smith has a certain way with words. At the end of his book, returning to a discussion of the politics of Project Mercury, he portrays that extraordinary time with an example of wonderful clarity and insight, pg.336:: “… the pilots couldn’t believe it when this steady approach [Boeing’s X-20 orbital plane] was sacrificed to the idea of farting a man into the sky, then scooping him up from the sea as he bobbed about like a helpless infant in his turkey-foil romper suit.” How I laughed! Then on pg.220: the seemingly rhetorical question ‘will man return [to the Moon] today?’ is posed. Smith thinks not; justifying his assertion that taxpayers in a democracy will refuse to pay the prohibitive costs for, amongst other things, considerably improved safety.

Smith’s observations on 1960s bathtub technology continue. Between the covers of this book is a visit to those peak Meccano days which I thoroughly enjoyed. Choice delights (a delight is one where tragedy did not result) are laid out; such as that on pg 48: where I learnt of the significant extent of reliance placed on physical, as opposed to modern digital, technologies. As events later proved that was no bad thing. During the return of the Apollo 11 Lunar Module [LM] Eagle to the Command Module [CM] Columbia, Buzz Aldrin inadvertently broke the key which armed the ascent engine. Only quick thinking, and a pen jammed into the lock, saved the mission. But there again, it should not be overlooked that on pg.195: the reader is informed that the computer on board the ‘Eagle’ had a memory of just 36KB. That’s a fraction of the 1 GB RAM contained in an Apple i-phone 5 today (2013).

Timbre changes through this book. I fell quiet as I absorbed the consequences from pg. 143: a lesson from a British Royal Air Force pilot flying with the Red Arrows: “ He also taught me about the constant calculation that goes on in the mind of a pilot in relation to speeds and heights and angles, noting that it’s perfectly possible to reach the top of a low-level loop and suddenly apprehend that an unfortunate miscalculation moments ago makes it a mathematical certainty that you will be hitting the runway in 4.3 seconds, at a speed of 358 nautical miles per hour. In fact, one of the Red Arrows had done this just the previous year.” Similar happened a couple of summers ago above Bournemouth (England). I shared Smith’s sadness of the prospect that men of John Young’s (LMP, Apollo 12) calibre will pg.220: now certainly fall foul of the present-day obsession of a society that believes in thinking ever more homogenously, where commercialisation and brand identity are all that matter. Smith is genuinely angry that Young, a man exceptionally short on the unappealing qualities of vanity and narcissism, would never be selected today.

I chortled at pgs.247-249: the ‘toilet’ humour and physical challenges of urinating and poo-ing on Apollo are so charmingly and eloquently described. Funny, of course, to the reader; but of VERY real concern to the astronaut and his companions, in what was physically an extremely restricted space. Michael Collins’ description of those same procedures in his book, “Carrying The Fire” should likewise not be missed. Back to “Moondust”, and pg 86: entertained me as to how Michael Collins once speculated on the unmentioned question of travel expenses (The NASA rate of 8c per mile would have yielded a very useful $80,000). He understandably lets it drop when he discovers that another person had already tested this; only to be presented with a bill of $185 million for one launch-ready Saturn V rocket!

Smith largely downplays what must have been his most significant challenge; that of persuading as many as possible of the surviving Moonwalkers to open up and grant him one, or in some cases more than one, interview. He won through by respecting their personal schedules, and politely working around them. The best thing about these interviews is how Smith keeps his reader fully, or what feels like pretty comprehensively, informed on what he’s thinking as each encounter takes place, and each interview progresses. Suddenly I became aware that here was a remarkably astute interviewer; one who is gracious enough to seek the best from his subject, but at the same time not to betray the relationship of trust, let alone to betray. He clearly relates well to his subjects; even the notoriously self-contained & publicity shy Neil Armstrong eventually warms and unwinds a little. I thought Smith pin-sharp in his analysis that: p.156: “Old fashioned fame was acquired, but celebrity is bestowed: it only exists in relationship with the audience-jury we supply and comprise.” and his sighting of how pg.184: Alan Bean’s conscience knew that it would be all too easy to change actual memories from life into memories that he wished he had. Pg.169: explores how that ‘magic’ never left the lunar astronauts is made manifest when watching Al Reinart’s Oscar-winning film For All Mankind. I’ve seen that film. It is jaw-droppingly amazing & pin-sharp.

The pressure must have been, and continue to be (for those alive still) considerable. On pg.305: Gene Cernan (LMP, Apollo 17) bewails: “But we didn’t put ourselves in front of the public, which is what celebrities tend to do. We just got thrust there.” I really felt for him (I have never been a fan of celebrity). It is Smith who endeavours to unravel the puzzle: pg.289: “… our fascination is not about them; it’s about us.” Smith concludes that there is a significant difference between the Apollo Commanders, who were tasked with piloting the lunar modules: Armstrong, Conrad, Shepard, Scott, Young, and Cernan; and their crews. On pg.332 he rationalises Deke Slayton’s choice of Apollo LMPs as picked: “ … for their rarefied focus and tightly reined imaginations, for their relative immunity to doubt, ambivalence, and vacillation …” In one word, ‘impregnability’. I wonder how many employers today select their staff by applying quite such a thorough analytical methodology?

4.5 stars. I finished this book really enjoying it. But Michael Collins’ “Carrying The Fire” beats it.
Profile Image for el.
34 reviews
January 13, 2023
wanted to hear more about the astronauts and less about the author
Profile Image for Mind the Book.
795 reviews63 followers
July 20, 2020
Samlar mig efter sommarens läsupplevelse. Eftersom det just är den 16 juli idag, datumet för uppskjutningen av Apollo 11, skrev jag några inlägg på Mission Control, jag menar mitt insta, @mindthebook
Profile Image for Mike Futcher.
Author 1 book8 followers
June 13, 2021
"Turning right into the traffic on Sunset, I find myself breathing the words to 'For What It's Worth' by Buffalo Springfield, the Sixties group which launched Neil Young and Stephen Stills." (pg. 97)

"Sometimes I feel as though there's a little grey cloud following along a few steps behind me, or a dog with a big, drippy yellow tongue. The world is confusing, or maybe just confused. On the evidence so far, I'm not sure that I like it all that much, though the coconut ice cream in the park is nice." (pg. 126)

You may think that the above quotes are rather strange ones to find in a book about the Moon landings, and you'd surely be right. You might also think that I'm being unfair, that I'm quoting out of context, but I assure you that you'd be wrong. The damning thing is that Andrew Smith's Moondust could be half the length and still be seen as indulgent. The book is posited as being 'in search of the remaining Apollo astronauts' rather than a history of the Apollo program, and while this is interesting (more on that later), it does mean that the author inserts himself into the story a hell of a lot. There are merits in the approach, and in a rare few passages you do see the method in the madness, but there is something intensely dislikeable about a writer who sees the Andrew Smith story as being more important and more interesting for the reader than the Neil Armstrong story. The musician Neil Young is cited five times in the book's index, one more than Apollo astronaut Wally Schirra. I like Neil Young and Buffalo Springfield too, but I'm here to read about the Moon landings.

This is a shame, because when Smith talks about space he is actually pretty good. The Apollo missions are fascinating on their own, of course, so I don't know how much of the book's appeal is due to Smith and how much to his subject matter, but the author does well enough with the material – on the occasions he actually breaks away from his LP collection to talk about it. Only twelve people have been to the Moon, and only nine remained at the time Smith was writing (it's much less now). The Space Age is now seen as a "historical anomaly" (pg. 34) and the further we get from its reality, "the more avant-garde it's coming to seem" (pp264-5). Smith's journey – and, boy, he really lets you know it is his journey – is to try to capture what that unique experience of standing on another celestial body could actually be like.

Each of the nine surviving Moonwalkers has a different perspective on what it was like and we join Smith in being fascinated at "the way one experience can produce such a spectrum of consequence" (pg. 245). Some of the stories, anecdotes, testimonies and contemplations are incredibly thought-provoking, like all things space-related, and we do not mind delving into these even with an author who is determined that it is he and not the reader who will be piloting this craft. Smith gets a lot of mileage out of this new approach to a story that has been told over and over again, and the book can be recommended on this basis alone. There are some good insights in this book, which unfortunately proves to be a lot longer than its 350 pages. For a persevering reader, Moondust has specks of golddust, mired in a muddy river of pseud.
Profile Image for Carl.
41 reviews7 followers
May 31, 2021
It's a good book for New Journalism more about the author than the subjects. That's probably overstating the case, but it's still very much true that we learn a lot about Andrew Smith in reading this book. Regardless of that stylistic choice, I still loved it. I wish I met Edgar Mitchell.
Profile Image for Caroline.
718 reviews121 followers
September 26, 2018
This is an interesting book: part travelogue, part collective biography of the nine remaining men who set foot on the moon and what happened to them after that life-changing experience, and part philosophical discourse on what Apollo and the moon landings have come to mean to us in the forty years since Neil Armstrong became the first man on the moon. I loved it, from start to finish; I couldn't put it down, and when I did I felt thoroughly infected by the author's passion and 'childlike wonder'.

It's that wonder, I think, that keeps us fixating on the moon, on the Apollo space program, and on the men who risked their lives to reach the moon. Because when you look at the numbers, at the billions of dollars that the program cost, all the men and the manpower and the resources, and what did we achieve? A man stood on another world, but in concrete terms, what has it meant? And the answer is, truthfully, very little. Could that money and brainpower have been better spent solving problems here on Earth? Probably. Was Apollo worth it, in those terms?

No, probably not, but that's not why we went. Or perhaps it was, perhaps it was meant to be about technological advances and great leaps forward, and in that sense perhaps Apollo was a failure and that's why we haven't been back since. But it's not why we should go back. Going to the moon, Smith argues, isn't about the moon, it's about us. It's about giving us the perspective to see our own world in its proper context, an opportunity to see how precious and small it is and we all are. Going to the moon doesn't only help us to learn about another world, it helps us to learn about this world and our place in it. To quote Mallory, we should go because it's there. We should go because it's next, because we as humans have always been about moving on, moving up, crossing rivers and climbing mountains and overcoming the next challenge and the next and the next...

It's incredible to me that my mobile phone has more technology in it than the program that put a man on the moon, and you can't help but think, Why did we stop? Why didn't we push on? Why has it all stagnated? If we could put a man on the moon forty years ago why aren't we further along? Where has that desire gone? If everyone could read this book, perhaps that spark might be rekindled, because one day Apollo might prove to be the beginning of a journey that will save our lives, and who would be counting the cost then?
Profile Image for J.M. Hushour.
Author 8 books200 followers
December 15, 2016
Not so much a history of the Apollo guys, more an expedition for their own self-searching about what they did, as told through the author's own self-searching.
Of course, it's with the latter that one can easily find fault, because, frankly, who cares what Smith thinks. This is about finding out what the remaining (then) nine guys who walked on the moon thought about the experience. I'll get back to Smith in a minute.
Smith's attempts to wander around America getting the nine living Apollo astronauts views on what it meant for them to go and be on the moon is often hilarious, sometimes depressing, but always eye-opening even when, and maybe especially when, they are understandably reluctant to talk about it. Armstrong is one one end of the spectrum, tight-lipped, notoriously evasive and invisible, avoiding pretty much everyone (he's the nice twist at the end, though, when Smith comes full circle). Others, like Aldrin or Mitchell or Schmitt or Bean (the painter) are frank and unreserved. (Pete Conrad, whose death inspired this book, is sadly absent from the book. He was the best one.)
Others, like Young and Cernan, are evasive and vague, shopfronts to an enterprise whose achievement is stark but whose meaning still isn't. It's the latter that Smith is searching for and that's why his book is so rewarding. But it could easily be misconstrued as self-aggrandizing or even self-absorbed, because this is as much about him exploring what Apollo meant growing up the late 60s and early 70s as it is about what the astronauts felt.
Profile Image for Katika.
467 reviews16 followers
September 3, 2019
Jakie to uczucie stać na Księżycu? Jak żyć dalej, jakie cele sobie stawiać, gdy jest się jednym z 12 ludzi na świecie, którzy znają odpowiedź na to pytanie?
Andrew Smith wraca w swojej książce do lat dzieciństwa, gdy jako 8-latek przeżywał pierwsze lądowanie na księżycu. W swoich rozmowach z astronautami docieka nie tylko, jak marzyć dalej, gdy spełniło się największe marzenie, ale też szuka tej ekscytacji i zachwytu, którą pamięta z dzieciństwa. Dla niego lot na księżyc to nie tylko technikalia i polityka, to także element kultury lat 60. i 70. i jeden z punktów zwrotnych przemian społecznych. To surrealistyczny wręcz "kawałek XXI wieku w XX wieku", który już się nie powtórzył mimo szalonego rozwoju technologii (jednostki kosmiczne miały mniejsze moce obliczeniowe niż współczesne komórki!). "Kosmiczny pył" to nie suche dane historyczne, ale bardzo osobista książka osadzająca loty kosmiczne w kulturze, a także zapis spotkań z astronautami, rozmowy o ich życiu "po", tym prywatnym i zawodowym.
Warto mieć trochę podstawowych wiadomości o programie Apollo przed lekturą tej książki (np. film "Apollo 13" czy serial "Z ziemi na Księżyc"), ale nie trzeba interesować się kosmosem, by docenić tę opowieść, która generuje mnóstwo pytań, zachęca do dalszych poszukiwań (wątek żon astronautów, obrazy Alana Beana). Szczerze polecam!
Profile Image for Nic Margett.
95 reviews40 followers
May 27, 2013
While at work reading this on my lunch break, one of my colleagues mocked the "Richard and Judy's book club" logo on the front page. I was very quick to defend them. I've only read a handful from their lists, but every single one has been a thoroughly entertaining and effortless read and this one has been no different.

I read a lot of science fiction, yet it occurred to me while i read this that i hadn't really looked at the realities of space exploration in any particular depth. I've watched a couple of documentaries before, but this book really got to the feelings of the men who went up there. Smith's writing is friendly and informative and full of the wonders he felt as a child. I particularly enjoyed how he mentions things like music, and his general experiences on the road to meet the astronauts. He talks about all sorts of things that i hadn't even considered, and i can say now unequivocally that i have a different view of space than the one i had before.
Profile Image for Erin Greenberg.
12 reviews
May 22, 2015
I can't tell you how much I loved this book. I read it a few years ago during a summer of space race reading. I ended up buying my own copy and have loaned it to several friends already! It was amazing to read the impact space travel and moonwalks had on these elite men. Their lives were never the same. The most interesting aspect of this book was watching each astronaut's story unfold. Each of them did the same thing (aside from Jim Lovell, Fred Haise, and Jack Swiggert of Apollo 13) - they each travelled in space and landed on the moon. But each experienced the same phenomenon differently: Alan Bean became a painter; Jack Swiggert was elected to Congress; Neil Armstrong caved from the social pressures and immediate fame. To see their post-lunar careers evolve, as well as their personal and spiritual lives, was incredible. These men and their missions will always hold a special place in my heart. I can't help but look up at the moon and be inspired by what they did.
Profile Image for Laura.
387 reviews6 followers
March 24, 2018
In turns poignant, humorous and contemplative, this is a beautifully written book that goes far beyond simply interviewing the surviving American astronauts who walked on the moon. Considering the trajectory of their lives following their lunar expeditions raises many questions about what brings true satisfaction. I'm actually not very interested in astronomy or space exploration, but the quality of the storytelling kept me engaged throughout, which is a real credit to the author. Excellent audio production.
Profile Image for Mark Fleming.
Author 4 books2 followers
September 7, 2013
A masterpiece. A book that manages to convey the awe, the magic and yet the very ordinariness of an extraordinary time and event. We can almost walk with these ageing men in an impossible place. We feel their aches of age and the sadness they each seem to convey. The moon-men soared in their early lives, test pilots, fighter pilots and daredevils. Then they set off for the moon. Each in their own way has never returned, and for those who reached its ancient surface, something other than just their footprints remain.

If you read just one book on those extraordinary times, make it this one.
19 reviews1 follower
February 6, 2016
A passable book - fairly disorganized, this book purports to be about the men who walked on the Moon but is as much about the author and his journey as any of the astronauts. It was an enjoyable, albeit lengthy, read, probably about 20% longer than necessary and disappointing in terms of storytelling.
12 reviews
August 19, 2007
This was a random purchase but turned out to be very good indeed. The conceit is that the writer is trying to find the remaining men who walked on the moon and, while doing so, tries to find-out why the world has become so unimpressed by their achievement. Intriguing.
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