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[i]In 1969, less than six months before the first human beings landed on the Moon as a part of the Apollo Program, officials at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) began to plan the symbolic activities that would mark the historic event. In addition to coordinating the planting of a United States flag and attaching a commemorative plaque to the leg of the lunar lander, NASA officials also solicited "messages of good will" from nations around the world. One hundred sixteen requests went out to world leaders for "a document suitable for microfilming." Eighty-one nations replied. With the results engraved in miniature on a silicon disc and packed inside of an aluminum compact, those good wishes were deposited on the lunar surface without much ceremony-- almost as an afterthought on a mission packed with scheduled objectives and symbolic acts--just before astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin finished their moonwalk. Back on Earth, 16 replica discs were distributed to dignitaries, with one being given to the Smithsonian Institution.
Although the typewritten English translations of the messages included on the Apollo 11 silicon disc have been public in NASA records for almost 40 years, Tahir Rahman's book tells for the first time the full story of this unique object--and in doing so, offers a fresh look at the symbolic importance of the first Moon landing. Rahman, a board-certified psychiatrist by training and a space buff by avocation, uncovered and collected the documentary record of this commemorative act, including locating the original messages in the Library of Congress. Illustrated with gorgeous color photographs, We Came in Peace retells the story of Apollo 11 and reveals the process behind the creation of the silicon disc (including the patent filed for the specific procedure used to emboss the miniaturized messages on the disc). What this book does best, however, is display the original messages in context.
More than half of the volume is dedicated to showcasing the goodwill messages. The glossy, elegant layout allows the reader to consider fully each note and its source. On each two-page spread, a map of the world showing the country in question forms the backdrop for each message presented in its original language--and in some cases, its original calligraphy. On the facing page, translations reveal the sentiments composed by world leaders to be left on the Moon. (The only error in the maps is the confusion of Chiang Kai- Shek's Taiwan-based Republic of China with Mao's mainland People's Republic of China.)
Intended as a time capsule that would last for thousands of years on the Moon, the contents of the silicon disc have become a time capsule of another sort. The geopolitical world recorded in these messages is a relic of 40 years ago. In 1969, Indira Ghandi led India and Haile Selassie was Emperor of Ethiopia. Although the Soviet Union did not respond to the United States' invitation to participate, Josip Tito of Yugoslavia did. Forty years later, the Cold War is over, regimes have changed, and some Eastern European boundaries have been redrawn. Reading the good will messages and noticing who wrote them permits a unique glimpse of a historical moment.
It also reminds one that, in 1969, the events of the early 20th Century remained in living memory for many. For instance, the message from Ireland came from Eamon de Valera, a man who helped to lead the Easter Uprising in Ireland in 1916 and who during Apollo 11 was serving his second term as President of Ireland.
The messages themselves also make interesting reading.
Although some are short declarations, many are poetic. In retrospect, the wishes for good will, brotherhood, and peace delivered by despots and dictators carry an extra layer of irony. Despite the earnest tone of most of the blessings, some messages include lighter notes, such as the wish of President Felix Houphouet-Boigny, that "I hope also that he [the moonwalker] would tell the Moon how beautiful it is when it illuminates the nights of the Ivory Coast" (157).
Beautifully illustrated and elegantly laid-out, this small coffee- table book would be a welcome addition to the collection of any space enthusiast. As the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11 approaches in 2009, there will be many volumes on the first lunar landing vying for one's attention. Consider this one. By focusing on the Apollo 11 silicon disc, Tahir Rahman offers a new perspective on the event's resonance, both as it was planned by those creating the commemorations and as viewed 40 years later.
Margaret A. Weitekamp, Curator
National Air and Space Museum
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