Commemorating the Real Moonwalkers: Andrew Smith’s Moon Dust

Ciel profound/Deep Sky by Alain Bachellier on FlickrLet’s cut right to the chase here: many of you reading this weren’t even alive on July 20, 1969.

Neither was I.

And for that reason, it’s simply impossible for us, who have always known moon landings to be possible but have never seen one live, to grasp what those days leading up to the Apollo 11 mission felt like and the wave of emotions that swirled through the 500 million people watching Neil Armstrong take his “one small step.”

But that doesn’t stop me, who has always had a fascination with the final frontier, from trying to imagine.

And one summer day in 2006, I got a little help from my old friend William, he of the orgasmic Ionian Sea view.

In one of our many morning conversations over cappuccino the year before, I had told William that one of my earliest career aspirations had been to be an astronaut; I waxed poetic about Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama (surely a uniquely American concept, no?), and how if I had been able to attend (it wasn’t even remotely financially possible), my whole future coulda woulda shoulda blah blah blah.

Moon Dust by Andrew SmithWell, when William came back down here the following summer, he brought me a copy of Andrew Smith’s Moon Dust: In Search of the Men Who Fell to Earth from England; I had never even heard of it. He insisted that it was all the rage in the UK, and, indeed, it was shortlisted for the British Book Awards Best Read of 2006.

Moon Dust is Andrew Smith’s account of what has become of the remaining Moonwalkers–only nine of the twelve men who have walked on the moon’s surface from 1969-1972 are still alive to tell their stories.

Smith was inspired to pursue this idea because of what happened during a 1999 interview with Charlie Duke, who became the 10th man to walk on the moon with Apollo 16. In the course of the meeting, Duke received a call with news that Pete Conrad, third man on the moon with Apollo 12, had died from injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident in Ojai, California. “Ojai,” incidentally, is a Native American word for moon.

Duke plainly stated, “Now there’s only nine of us,” words that stuck in Smith’s head for years. Then he finally decided to pursue the answer to the question, “Where do you go after you’ve been to the Moon?” by tracking down all the surviving Moonwalkers to see how their lives were changed by their experiences and what they’ve been doing since their lunar days.

I devoured this book that summer, and I still think about it periodically, but it wasn’t until the coming of the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing that I picked it up again.

Just like the first time, I became fully engrossed in the stories of these extraordinary men who accomplished things I can’t begin to wrap my head around. Smith does a fantastic job of transporting the reader right there before, during, and after the moon landings, putting human faces, dreams, and feelings to names I’d only heard of.

Yes, Smith’s narrative could have been a little less about him and apparently there are some rather glaring factual errors (not that I could have picked them out), but none of that mattered to me. All I wanted to do was sit down with the Moonwalkers and just listen, and Smith’s Moon Dust gave me the chance to do just that — in many instances leaving me with even more questions about the men who walked on the moon, the space program’s past, present, and future, conspiracy theorists’ beliefs that the moon landings were a hoax and never actually happened, and so many other things I hadn’t even considered before I read the book.

Just like an excellent nonfiction book should.

Whether you were alive or not on July 20, 1969, I highly recommend this book for an amazing look into the minds, hearts, and souls of nine of the 12 most interesting men to have ever walked the earth — and the moon.

What do you associate with the July 20, 1969 moon landing?

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13 Beans of Wisdom to “Commemorating the Real Moonwalkers: Andrew Smith’s Moon Dust”
  1. Gil
    07.20.2009

    I remember watching it with my parents and a girl I was dating who is now my loving wife!

    Aw how sweet, Gil! Was it the coolest or what?

  2. This book sounds amazing.

    The moonwalk must have been an incredible thing to see. I have to ask my parents about it.

    If you like biographies and otherwise enjoy people’s life stories, definitely a great book :)

    .-= nyc/caribbean ragazza´s last blog ..A perfect Saturday in Rome: friends, prosecco, cake, scooters and a crazy man yelling into a non-existent cell phone. =-.

  3. ally bean
    07.20.2009

    “What do you associate with the July 20, 1969 moon landing?”

    Baby doll jammies!!

    I was a little girl and my two girl cousins were spending the night at our house. It was a very humid, hot night and my family didn’t have air conditioning. My parents were trying to keep us girls awake so that we could see the moon landing live, but my cousins and I were so tired– and dressed in our cute, lightweight jammies so that we’d be cool.

    We kept trying to curl up on the sofa and go to sleep, but my parents persevered and succeeded in keeping us alert so that we could see the event live. Thinking back on it as an adult, it was a way cool thing to see. Yeah, Mom and Dad!!

    That’s awesome, Ally. Thanks for sharing :)

  4. 07.20.2009

    I remember being at our summer camp and seeing this on TV live. It was amazing. My mom and gram talked about it, and how this could not be “real”. A few years later while we were at camp again watched Nixon famous speech during Watergate!

    Hah, what camp memories you have, Deb!

    .-= Deb R´s last blog ..Rain, Rain Go Away! =-.

  5. 07.20.2009

    I was! I was 4! My dad took pictures of the tv…lol.

    Pretty smart of your dad!

    .-= LUCY´s last blog .. =-.

  6. I watched the liftoff and the landing, starting a lifetime of full space geekiness. I’m going to try and make it down to Florida to see one of the last Shuttle launches, too.

    One of the most interesting things about the article in Time magazine about the moonmen is how “Buzz” Aldrin is really making a comeback from being sort of the Apollo 11 also-ran. He lost a child right before the mission, and afterwards struggled with alcoholism and depression. Lately, though, he’s been much more in the public eye as Armstrong becomes increasingly reclusive.

    And it’s fitting: in addition to having the coolest nickname of any historical figure since “Wild” Bill Hickok, it’s “Buzz” Aldrin’s image – not Armstrong’s – that comes to mind when we think of a man on the Moon: http://starchild.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/StarChild/space_level2/aldrin.html

    Love Buzz! There was an interview with him on the History Channel on 20 July…yay!

    .-= paul of the clue-by-four´s last blog ..one big deal for a three-year-old =-.

  7. 07.20.2009

    Grazie, Michelle.
    As we both know, our common interests seem to be divided only be a sea right now. Being an astronaut was always a priority for me but Physics 3 put the brakes on that……and well, here I am now as a litigator looking back. The promise of the lunar landing held so much more at a time where the world was divided by so much. It was not unlike today but today there is no common goal, sadly, no unity of optimism. My memories of that summer of ’69 detailed for you on my blog.
    Now I understand why you miss your friend William so much. He sounded like a great guy!

    Indeed, and I have to admit, my desire had already waned by the time I got to the chance to take Physics…plus I never would’ve passed the eyesight requirements anyway ;)

    .-= Lisa Fantino, Esq.´s last blog ..Westchester attorney Lisa Fantino remembers the summer of 1969 full of possibilities =-.

  8. 07.20.2009

    I have so many associations that I’ll e-mail you. Like you, I was a wannabe, but I actually *was* alive and actually almost played my own small role in the NYC area.

    Ooh fun! Can’t wait Jen :)

    .-= jen of a2eatwrite´s last blog ..THE MISSING INK Blog Tour with Karen E. Olson =-.

  9. I dreamed of going to space camp too. :)

    Sounds like a great story. I’ll add it to my list.

    What do you associate with the July 20, 1969 moon landing? Ever since I saw Apollo 13 I think of Tom Hanks in his back yard blotting out the moon with his thumb while at the same time longing to go to the moon in such a visceral way that I can feel it too.

    Apollo 13 is an awesome movie indeed.

    .-= coffeejitters (Judy Haley)´s last blog ..Baby’s First Live Band =-.

  10. 07.21.2009

    Hi Michelle,

    I had not heard of the book, but it is going on my list of books to read.

    I am old enough to remember watching the landing on TV. Yikes. :-(

    George

    No, that’s a fabulous thing George! I’m jealous :)

    .-= Tumblemoose´s last blog ..Are you destined to be one kind of writer? =-.

  11. 07.21.2009

    I actually remember where I was that day: I was at a neighbors bungalow in Southhampton, NY. He caught lobsters for dinner. Yeah, I’m part of the elite over 40 crowd.

    Cool, and YUM!

  12. 07.22.2009

    Ciao Bella,
    just a quick note to let you know I have recieved my copy from Thomas Cook !!!!
    And I am reading Lara’s guide about Calabria and looking at Tery’s photos with great curiosity !
    GRAZIE, Thanks, Danke again
    S.

    PS: I am missing Badolato and Seminara… maybe next time when the review is due – or did’t you want grale hunters in your village and asked to be spared ?!?! ;-)

    I had nothing to do with the content of the book; would love to see Badolato publicized more!

    .-= Suzie´s last blog ..Calabria through an artist’s eye =-.

  13. 07.22.2009

    *sigh*
    If only we could have been there! But perhaps you and I will be among those to travel in space someday… for leisure maybe, if opportunity and possibility are kind to us.

    ;o)

    I’m adding this one to my list right away!! Oh if I could have flown that high and that far. Aren’t the heavens an inspiration to the soul? Oh to touch them, to be there in them in a tangible way… but we can feel them now, inside us, in an almost visceral way.

    XOXO
    Ciao bella!

    Scarlett & Viaggiatore

    I’m with you, girl…something just so magical about all those stars….


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