A funny thing happened on my way to Tranquillity Base. I suppose I could call it a revelation. This book, provisionally titled One Giant Leap, was originally intended as an antidote to my last book, The Bomb: A Life. Writing about nuclear weapons left me depressed, cynical, forlorn, and scared. After that experience, I craved something hopeful and uplifting and therefore looked to my childhood for a good wholesome story to retell. I decided to write a book about the heroes of my youth—the astronauts who took America to the Moon. I suppose that's self-indulgent, but I didn't care. I'd earned it after doing time with the Bomb.
When I started looking at the lunar program, I found heroes aplenty. But I also found a gang of cynics, manipulators, demagogues, tyrants, and even a few criminals. I discovered scheming politicians who amassed enormous power by playing on the public fascination for space and the fear of what the Russians might do there. Quite a few people got rich from the lunar mission; some got very rich indeed. The Moon mission was sold as a race that America could not afford to lose— a struggle for survival. Landing on the Moon, it was argued, would bring enormous benefit to all mankind. It would be good for the economy, for politics, and for the soul. It would, some argued, even end war.
Referring to the shallow nature of the Apollo 11 coverage on television and in newspapers, Edwin Diamond, a senior editor at Newsweek, wrote, a short time after the launch:
Little of the flesh and blood vitality—and human frailties—of the past
decade of the American space venture were offered. … Among the
missing stories, to take only the most obvious examples, were the Cold
War beginnings of the space program; John F. Kennedy's search for a
space spectacular “that the U.S. could win”; the spurious nature of the
“Moon race” with the Russians (we raced only ourselves); the separate
fiefdoms and the abrasive clash of personalities in NASA; the
logrolling politics of space appropriations and decisions that put the