Dark Side of the Moon: The Magnificent Madness of the American Lunar Quest

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Overview

A selection of the History, Scientific American, and Quality Paperback Book Clubs

For a very brief moment during the 1960s, America was moonstruck. Boys dreamt of being an astronaut; girls dreamed of marrying one. Americans drank Tang, bought “space pens” that wrote upside down, wore clothes made of space age Mylar, and took imaginary rockets to the moon from theme parks scattered around the country.

But despite the best efforts of a generation of scientists, the almost foolhardy heroics of the astronauts, and 35 billion dollars, the moon turned out to be a place of “magnificent desolation,” to use Buzz Aldrin’s words: a sterile rock of no purpose to anyone. In Dark Side of the Moon, Gerard J. DeGroot reveals how NASA cashed in on the Americans’ thirst for heroes in an age of discontent and became obsessed with putting men in space. The moon mission was sold as a race which America could not afford to lose. Landing on the moon, it was argued, would be good for the economy, for politics, and for the soul. It could even win the Cold War. The great tragedy is that so much effort and expense was devoted to a small step that did virtually nothing for mankind.

Drawing on meticulous archival research, DeGroot cuts through the myths constructed by the Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson administrations and sustained by NASA ever since. He finds a gang of cynics, demagogues, scheming politicians, and corporations who amassed enormous power and profits by exploiting the fear of what the Russians might do in space.

Exposing the truth behind one of the most revered fictions of American history, Dark Side of the Moon explains why the American space program has been caught in a state of purposeless wandering ever since Neil Armstrong descended from Apollo 11 and stepped onto the moon. The effort devoted to the space program was indeed magnificent and its cultural impact was profound, but the purpose of the program was as desolate and dry as lunar dust.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“The book is well written and quite engaging with its cast of colorful characters.”
-Choice

,

Dark Side of the Moon is an elegant contribution to the history of the space age.”
-The Sunday Times

,

“DeGroot presents a chronicle of exploration, concentrating on the utter uselessness of NASA’s lunar missions, boondoggles every bit as myopic and costly as the Cold War that spawned them.”
-The Atlantic Monthly

,

“DeGroot writes compellingly about the convergence of political, military, and industrial forces that produced the ‘magnificent madness’ of the space agency NASA in the 1960s. . . . A fine writer with a real flair for storytelling has fun with NASA's extravagance and its tendency to look for complex solutions where simple ones would do.”
-The Financial Times

,

“DeGroot weaves a compelling tale.”
-Chicago Sun-Times

,

Publishers Weekly
When President Kennedy announced that the United States would land a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s, he forced NASA to assume a "faster, cheaper, better" mindset that continues to bedevil it today, says DeGroot (The Bomb: A History). The space agency quickly came up against the budgetary pressures of the Vietnam War and expanding domestic programs, but as DeGroot writes, Lyndon Johnson insisted the U.S. would meet his predecessor's goal, even as NASA's budget was cut every year. DeGroot reveals that engineers turned a blind eye on slipshod components in order to meet impossible deadlines. NASA's public relations machine portrayed its astronauts as wholesome all-Americans even as many of them behaved like rutting frat boys when off duty. The claim has often been made that consumers benefited from the space program, but the author points out that Tang, Velcro and Teflon were invented long before Sputnik was launched. DeGroot writes with 20-20 hindsight, and his sarcasm may put off some readers, although it makes for entertaining reading. Anyone interested in a corrective view to the official hagiographies of the space program will find this acid-etched history hard to put down. (Nov.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An expose arguing that the Apollo Program conned taxpayers and provided a lavish, risky ego trip for technocrats and politicians. DeGroot (The Bomb, 2004; History/Univ. of St. Andrews, Scotland) crafts a winning formula: While peeling away layer after layer of the deceptions and spin that sold NASA's lunar program to the funding public, he indulges readers with a nostalgia binge of epic proportions. Although cautioning against finding any heroes in his reading of the case, he does isolate President Eisenhower as a voice in the wilderness, protesting, however faintly, against the massive expenditures he correctly foresaw would ultimately be required to administer a "$35 billion happy pill" to a depressed America. We were never behind, the author stresses, in the so-called "space race" when it came to developing technology with direct national-security implications; Ike knew it but couldn't say it because intelligence-gathering was top-secret. What the public saw instead was a Soviet circus with brutish booster-rockets throwing into space seemingly at will the first orbiter, then the first dog, man, woman, etc. All their failures were cloaked; all of ours screamed in headlines. The villains? DeGroot first fixes on Wernher von Braun, the former Nazi wunderkind whose rocketry, built by slave labor, had rained death on London. Ike and anyone else counseling restraint had no chance against the salesmanship of a visionary scientist with the requisite foreign accent. But it was John F. Kennedy, the author says, who insisted on a manned, space-based world-opinion coup-forget science-the gargantuan budget of which he would later come to rue. The author provides lots of philandering-astronautstories and similar fun stuff to go along with the overview, all metaphorically topped by Enos, second chimp in space, who yanked off his diaper at his post-flight press conference and tried to fondle himself. Top-flight debunking takes all the air out of the moon race.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814719954
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 11/1/2006
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 321
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Gerard J. DeGroot is professor of modern history at the University of St. Andrews, in Scotland. He is the author of ten books, most recently The Bomb: A Life, which won the prestigious [2004] Westminster Medal for the best book on a war or military topic.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 11, 2006

    A Flawed Book

    The Dark Side Of The Moon is a highly uneven book written by Gerard DeGroot, a Professor of History and an award winning author. The book adopts the now generally accepted view the America¿s space program in the 1960s was driven by cold war politics rather than important scientific goals. The book also argues that the Apollo program was a dead end for space exploration rather than a significant event in the ongoing human exploration of space. The author then proceeds from these not unusual ideas to argue that America¿s manned exploration of space was a massive waste of money, a mere American ego trip and a grossly mismanaged rush to the moon. These are much more debatable propositions. The shocking aspect of the book is that the author of this ¿history¿ relies on an Apollo mission to the moon that never took place as part of his argument that Apollo was an ill conceived rush to the moon. DeGroot believes that Apollo astronauts made three trips to the moon prior to the Apollo 11 moon landing mission, thus making even the Apollo 11 flight to the moon ¿routine.¿ Showing his lack of knowledge of what actually happened in the Apollo program, DeGroot writes on pages 230-231 ¿ ¿For NASA, Apollo 8 provided valuable confirmation that the package which would take Americans to the Moon actually worked. Apollo 9 then took on the original profile of Apollo 8, except for the fact that, given the earlier mission¿s success, there seemed little point in testing the lunar module in Earth orbit. The crew of James McDivitt, David Scott, and Rust Schweickart therefore went to the Moon. After the command module separated from the spent rocket, the crew turned it around and then docked with the lunar module, which was still enclosed in Saturn¿s final stage. They then pulled away and headed for the Moon. Once in the Moon¿s orbit, McDivitt and Schweickart climbed into the lunar module, separated it from the command module, and flew it for the first time.¿ This story about Apollo 9 going to the moon is fiction, not history. This is no mere typo or misstatement, but an appalling error in scholarship by this historian. Apollo 9 never went to the moon. Astronauts McDivitt, Scott and Schweickart did not orbit the moon in Apollo 9. Apollo 9 it was planned and executed (highly successfully) as an Earth orbit mission. One minute of on on-line research can confirm this by searching for Apollo 9 at the NASA web site. The difference between an Earth orbit mission and a lunar obit mission is vast. How vast? Well, since the last Apollo flight to the moon in 1972 there have been over a hundred Earth orbit flights and not a single flight to the moon. Since Apollo 11 was only the second time the lunar module went to the moon and only the third time men traveled to the moon, it was not a ¿routine¿ event. In erroneously describing the Apollo 9 mission as traveling to the moon and using that as part of his argument for criticizing NASA, the author seriously undercuts his credibility. Furthermore, continuing factual errors about the Apollo program show that the author does not have any in depth knowledge of what actually occurred on these missions. For example, in writing about what DeGroot describes as the ¿well known¿ Apollo 13 mission, he states ¿An explosion ripped through the outer skin of the Command Module, which quickly lost electric power.¿ P. 250. In fact, the explosion ripped through the skin of the service module, an entirely different part of the space craft. If the explosion had ripped though the skin of the command module, the astronauts would have immediately died from decompression of the command module. An author of a book about the Apollo missions should better understand the design of the Apollo command and service modules that made up the Apollo spacecraft. Especially if it is a book highly critical of the entire program. The author also shows that he does not have a clear grasp of the events that too

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 11, 2006

    Dark Side of the Moon: The Magnificent Madness of the American Lunar Quest

    Not many people realize that, for most of the Sixties, the Vietnam War was a lot more popular than Apollo. Americans got the occasional kick out of the rocket launches, but, when asked whether the fantasy in space was worth the $35 million dollar price tag, a clear majority usually said 'No'. This book exposes the underside of the race to the moon, especially all of the underhand, devious and sometimes criminal ways NASA used to maintain government support for Apollo. It's going to make a lot of people very mad, but these needs to be said, and congratulations to DeGroot for saying it. In addition to providing some really shocking revelations about how we were manipulated, it is also a darn good read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 11, 2006

    Dark Side of the Moon: The Magnificent Madness of the American Lunar Quest

    So was it worth it for you? The journey to the Moon cost $2000 for EVERY man, woman and child living in America in 1969. That's an awful lot to pay for some Teflon and Velcro, especially when you consider that (contrary to NASA's claims) Teflon and Velcro were invented before any American actually took to space. For far too long, we have been fed a load of lies about the importance of going to the Moon and man's need to explore. Why can't we find something worthwhile to do with all that money on earth?

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