Book Review: Voices From the Moon

By Keith Cowing
July 14, 2009
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Book Review: Voices From the Moon

Voices from the Moon: Apollo Astronauts Describe Their Lunar Experiences, Andrew Chaikin (available at Amazon.com)

As we descend upon the 40th anniversary of the first humans to stand on the moon, the books, and movies, and DVDs, and websites all seem hell bent on a collision – each one trying to best encapsulate the Apollo experience. While Apollo 11 was the first mission to put people on the moon – other missions followed.  And while the experience of walking on the Moon was shared by a precious few, the opinions of the moonwalkers are remarkably diverse so as to allow everyone to identify with what it must have been like to be there.

Once again, in his book “Voices From the Moon: Apollo Astronauts Describe Their Lunar Experiences”, author Andy Chaikin has managed to distill and then capture the essence of Apollo. Indeed, if there is anyone who has lived and breathed Apollo for the past 40 years, it has been Andy.  He kept the flame alive when most of us looked  at Apollo as old hat.  Now, suddenly, it is new again.

Andy did not write this book in the traditional sense. The words are virtually all from the Apollo crews. Nor did he take the pictures – they were also taken by others. Rather, Andy’s artistry is evidenced in how he sat and listened as the crew spoke – sometimes from the grave.  He weaved their words and pictures into a narrative about what it was like to go, to live, and then to return from this amazing place.

Many of the images are familiar but many more are not. Often, the images chosen for this book were not what people wanted to see in Life Magazine in 1969, so they were never seen by more than a small few. My favorite in this book is opposite Chapter 9 – “Apollo 13”. I am not certain if it was taken on approach or on return from the Moon. That said, it shows a small grey orb, partially lit in the distance – again it is either a destination or a memory.  Across from the image is a quote from Apollo 13 astronaut Fred Haise which captures the moment when the crew simultaneously knew that their dreams were crushed – and their lives were very much at risk.

Another favorite is a lunar panorama with a telephoto insert showing the Lunar Module “Falcon” utterly dwarfed as it is set against the vast expanse of the Moon. We seem to have forgotten just how awe-inspiring a place the Moon truly is. Maybe it is time to  go back and get re-awed all over again.

It is good that these voices were brought back together, perhaps one last time.  As we celebrate the 40th anniversary of this grand human adventure, the eyewitnesses  have already begun to dwindle in number. A decade hence, that number will be much smaller.

Soon there will only be words and pictures. This book will be at the top of the pile.

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.