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Moon Dust - Andrew Smith

Moon Dust

Review by Lizzie Guilfoyle

WHERE were you, I wonder, when Neil Armstrong made “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”? Andrew Smith, author of Moon Dust and just eight years old in July 1969, watched the Apollo 11 moon landing on television in his San Francisco home.

Almost three decades later, a magazine assignment led to a meeting with Charlie Duke who flew the Apollo 16 mission, and his wife Dotty.

It was during that meeting that Duke received news of fellow moonwalker Pete Conrad’s death, and it was a remark of Duke’s that prompted Smith’s quest to discover how the astronauts’ lives were changed by such a momentous experience.

The remark itself was a surprisingly simple one – “Now there’s only nine of us” – nine out of a total of only 12 men who’d gazed back at Earth from another world. And statistically speaking, that means there will soon be none.

Not only that, in this age of advanced technology, it’s difficult to perceive a world in which computers were still in their infancy and far far simpler than their sophisticated modern counterparts.

It might, therefore, come as something of a shock to learn that “a babyish room-sized computer ostensibly ran the show”, the sheer scale and audacity of which, has never been equalled.

Smith’s book is, then, a welcome and enlightening trip down memory lane. It’s also, as we’ve already seen, something of an eye-opener.

For instance, it’s difficult to believe that Armstrong and Aldrin (Apollo 11) were saved from “a whimsical death 240,000 miles from home” by a pen. Or that when the abort switch was “playing up” on Apollo 14, Edgar Mitchell was told to “tap it with a screwdriver.” But that’s exactly what happened.

And it’s facts like these that make Moon Dust such a fascinating read. It also does what it promises, with equally surprising results. As for the conspiracy theory (you know the one – did they really go to the moon?) – that’s for you to decide….

Moreover, the whole is interspersed with anecdotes of Smith’s own life – like the time he “went for a twirl with a pilot from the RAF’s Red Arrows display team”, to find out “what makes people fly jets or climb into rockets.” It’s an absolute gem.

And there you have a clue (in his choice of the word twirl) to the wonderful sense of humour Smith injects into this beautifully written book which, in the wrong hands, could quite easily become little more than a catalogue of facts and figures.

To his immense credit, it enthralls from start to finish. Definitely not one to be missed.