Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Review: Dark Side of the Moon

Dark Side of the Moon by Gerard J DeGroot (2006)

Dark Side of the Moon aims to be a corrective to the romantic aura that still surrounds the American space programme.  Starting with  popular literature of the 19th century and going on through the German V2 programme, the Space Race, and after Apollo, DeGroot works to uncover the seamier side of the conquest of space.  He spares no effort to bring the warts of politics, propaganda, and promotion to the front stage and makes very clear his thesis that landing a man on the Moon was not as tidy an adventure as many think.

The Moon landings are a peculiar event that many still find puzzling to this day.  After all that effort of getting to the Moon, the Americans abandoned their beachhead and no one else stepped in to claim the prize for themselves.  Nearly a half century latter, even the most ambitious manned space efforts are mere repeats of what was accomplished in the 1960s–only this time for wealthy tourists rather than national prestige.

Why?  What happened.  Put simply, manned spaceflight turned out to be more difficult and expensive than the pioneers thought and the Moon and beyond proved worthless against the risk and expense.  DeGroot recognises this and includes the reality check of physics as part of his account, but his basic theme is so simple and so easy to state that it really warrants an opinion piece rather than a book.  Providing little in the way of new information, DeGroot keeps restating over and over about how difficult space travel is and that the men behind it weren't so pure and that the enterprise had its vulgar side.  Never mind that the Americans are a vulgar people and proud of it.  With so much overstatement, one wonders if DeGroot is not a little worried that Apollo 11 really was a romantic, pivotal moment and not an insane sideshow.  In fact, sometimes he pushes his point so hard that he starts sneering at predictions that were valid.  It's hard to mock someone advocating satellites for weather prediction and military surveillance or that developing space technology would be as influential as the atom bomb.  How absurd.  How provincial.  How's that GPS and Internet thing working for you?

An interesting airing of space travel's critics and cynics when read in random dips into the text, Dark Side of the Moon is a hard slog front to back.  The Dark Side is in the end, not light reading for a very light thesis.

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