An exposé 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-astronaut stories 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.