Love That Moon

Rocket Men: The Epic Story of the First Men on the Moon by Craig Nelson

On the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing, I was in the midst of reading this terrific account of the event. It’s the sort of book that’s difficult to put down. (Love that!)

I hereby brand myself a typical outsider looking at the space program: like so many others, I am most interested in the astronauts themselves (a situation they have found frustrating and bewildering for all these decades. Of all their tasks, the one they most dreaded was… the press conference.)

Yet they are charming:

Neil Armstrong, the “Ice Commander,” revealing little emotion, but crafting the famous statement, “That’s one small step for (a) man. One giant leap for mankind.” Some of his other statements are shocking in their profundity. (Yes, I’m placing a hold today on the Armstrong biography First Man.)

Buzz Aldrin, to Armstrong, upon learning of the ginormous TV audience watching their moon landing: “Neil, we missed the whole thing.” (p. 310)

Michael Collins, greeting Armstrong and Aldrin upon their return to Columbia after their moon shot, grabbing Aldrin by both ears and nearly kissing his forehead.

And they are also wonderfully human in their affection for their spacecraft:

Example 1: Collins “then released Eagle, which fell into lunar orbit, having to work solo as Armstrong and Aldrin did not want to be involved in orphaning their girl.” (p. 298)

Example 2: Back on earth, directly after the flight—“Before leaving their ship forever, though, Collins couldn’t help himself from sneaking back aboard and writing, next to the sextant, ‘Spacecraft 107—alias Apollo 11—alias Columbia. The best ship to come down the line. God Bless Her. Michael Collins, CMP.’” (p. 308)

Craig Nelson has written a gripping, beautiful account of this 40-year-old story. His skill is in making it all seem new.