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The Greatest Day
“Buzz” Aldrin, pilot of the Lunar module for the Apollo 11 space flight to the moon, coincided in his priest shortly before the launch of Apollo 11. Aldrin was scared that neither the Apollo 11 mission commander Neil Armstrong, nor the public would understand the social and philosophical ramifications of landing on the moon. Shortly after the Lunar Module landed at Tranquility base, on the surface of the moon on July 20, 1969, Aldrin asked NASA officials and everyone else who might be listening to take a minute of personal prayer and contemplate what man had just accomplished. Aldrin then preformed he ritual of communion in the Lunar Module.
Of a Fire on the Moon, a book surrounding the events of the Apollo 11 journey to the moon, was written by Norman mailer during the historic Apollo 11 mission in 1969. Mailer was approached to write a book about the Space program shortly after he lost a highly publicized race for the Mayor of New York City. Mailer had little or no money, and was given one million-dollars to write the book.
For Mailer the third week of July 1969 pointed toward an end”…a curious depression full of fevers, forebodings, and a general sense that the century was done-it had ended in the summer of 1969. “ 1.
Mailer’s apocalyptic view of 1969 and the end of a century is a reoccurring theme behind Mailer’s look at the United States Space Program and the flight of Apollo 11. Mailer can only see the political goals of going to the moon, not the romanticism and spirituality that surrounded it. Mailer saw the flight of Apollo 11 as a gigantic, technological achievement, but Mailer believes the technology was developed for all the wrong reasons. 2
Throughout the first few chapter Of a Fire on the Moon, the reader becomes aware of Mailer’s stance on the United States Space Program, and Mailer’s own political and personal beliefs. Mailer was torn in his understanding of why man was attempting to travel to the moon:
“Intended by divine will to travel across the heavens, we were now at the least on our way to the moon, and who could know if we were ahead or behind of some schedule the lord had presented us, a schedule which presumably each man and woman alive would keep in the depths of their unconscious along with everything else most vital for the preservation of life.” 3
Mailer wanted to believe that by some divine intervention man was touched by the hand of God, and with that touch, humanity would begin a journey to the ends of the solar system, to the ends of the universe in search of the divine spirit which created him. However, Mailer he had faith in another:
“A meaningless journey to a dead arena in order that men could engage in the irrational activity of designing machines which would give birth to other machines which would travel to meaningless places as if they were engaged in these collective acts of hugely organized wit, goodness, or charity to solve their real problems, and so would certainly destroy themselves if they did not have a game of gargantuan dimensions for diversion….” 4
Mailer believed that the technology and the machines being developed to land on the moon are being developed for reason, to land a man on the moon. The act of building and developing these new machines has no purpose, no reason for being. Early in the text, Mailer notes the psychology of machines. That is a hard statement to understand, but Mailer’s contention is that the machines man builds, no matter what the size, or intention, have a soul. The machines can be tamed, but never controlled. Mailer was aware that the rapid advance in the technology of machines is not only destructive, but dangerous. Mailer knew that technology was developing so rapidly, that those who weren’t adept at mastering it were lost with in the culture:
“…Ideas were what Americans cared about, and the biggest ideas were doubtless the best, but what a price had been paid.” 5
Mailer is talking about the Faustian deal the United States government made in order to accomplish President John F. Kennedy’s decree in 1961 to land a man on the moon and
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Operation Paperclip, Apollo program, Of a Fire on the Moon, Science writing, Norman Mailer, Space Race, Wernher von Braun, Apollo 11, Moon landing, NASA, Apollo Lunar Module, Space exploration
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