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[i]As the United States revs up the engines for a return to the moon by 2020 and further travel to Mars, a solid look at the costs and benefits of the nation's earlier experiences with lunar exploration seems especially timely. Was Neil Armstrong's "giant leap for mankind" in July 1969 worth the billions spent to make it happen? Did it fire the imagination in any long-lasting and positive way that subsequent unmanned missions could not? One might expect that Dark Side of the Moon, Gerard J. DeGroot's new look at the Apollo space missions of the 1960s and '70s, would offer valuable insights into these questions. Unfortunately, it does not.
From its first pages, the book bristles with hostility toward virtually everything associated with America's drive to the moon. The lunar quest that DeGroot, a historian at Scotland's University of St. Andrews, describes is scientifically barren, unconscionably costly and absurdly risky -- little more than an ill-conceived Cold War race to outshine the Russians in space. The semi-heroes of the book are President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who saw no reason to race into space, and Alexei Leonov, the cosmonaut of the 1960s and '70s tapped to lead the first Soviet mission to the moon, who is liberally quoted saying enlightened things -- including recalling that his fellow cosmonauts applauded when Armstrong first touched the lunar surface. The goats are just about everyone else -- especially John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Walter Cronkite (a great space buff) and the leadership of NASA.
There certainly was a lot of hyperbole associated with America's early trips to the moon, but by focusing so relentlessly on the "dark side" of the quest, the author becomes blind to its wonder and value. There is, of course, no "dark side" of the moon that never experiences sunshine. There is a far side that we never see. But it, too, is sometimes bathed in light.[/i]
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