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Of a Fire on the Moon

Published by Random House Trade Paperbacks on 2014-06-03
Paperback: $16.00
BIOGRAPHY and AUTOBIOGRAPHY, HISTORY, SCIENCE / Astronomy, SCIENCE / Astrophysics and Space Science

For many, the moon landing was the defining event of the twentieth century. So it seems only fitting that Norman Mailer—the literary provocateur who altered the landscape of American nonfiction—wrote the most wide-ranging, far-seeing chronicle of the Apollo 11 mission. A classic chronicle of America’s reach for greatness in the midst of the Cold War, Of a Fire on the Moon compiles the reportage Mailer published between 1969 and 1970 in Life magazine: gripping firsthand dispatches from inside NASA’s clandestine operations in Houston and Cape Kennedy; technical insights into the magnitude of their awe-inspiring feat; and prescient meditations that place the event in human context as only Mailer could.
Praise for Of a Fire on the Moon
“The gift of a genius . . . a twentieth-century American epic—a Moby Dick of space.” New York
“Mailer’s account of Apollo 11 stands as a stunning image of human energy and purposefulness. . . . It is an act of revelation—the only verbal deed to be worthy of the dream and the reality it celebrates.” Saturday Review
“A wild and dazzling book.” The New York Times Book Review
“Still the most challenging and stimulating account of [the] mission to appear in print.” The Washington Post
Praise for Norman Mailer
“[Norman Mailer] loomed over American letters longer and larger than any other writer of his generation.” The New York Times
“A writer of the greatest and most reckless talent.” The New Yorker
“Mailer is indispensable, an American treasure.” The Washington Post
“A devastatingly alive and original creative mind.” Life
“Mailer is fierce, courageous, and reckless and nearly everything he writes has sections of headlong brilliance.” The New York Review of Books
“The largest mind and imagination [in modern] American literature . . . Unlike just about every American writer since Henry James, Mailer has managed to grow and become richer in wisdom with each new book.” Chicago Tribune
“Mailer is a master of his craft. His language carries you through the story like a leaf on a stream.” The Cincinnati Post
(Paperback (Reprint), 2014-06-03)
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ASIN: 0553390619
ISBN: 9780553390612
EAN: 9780553390612



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Praise for Norman Mailer 'Norman Mailer loomed over American letters longer and larger than any other writer of his generation.' 'The New York Times 'A writer of the greatest and most reckless talents.' 'The New Yorker 'Mailer is indispensable, an American treasure.' 'The Washington Post 'A devastatingly alive and original creative mind.' 'Life 'Mailer is fierce, courageous, and reckless and nearly everything he writes has sections of headlong brilliance.' 'The New York Review of Books 'Unlike just about every American writer since Henry James, Mailer has managed to grow and become richer in wisdom with each new book. . . . There can no longer be any doubt that he possesses the largest mind and imagination at work in American literature today.' 'Chicago Tribune 'Mailer is a master of his craft. His language carries you through the story like a leaf on a stream.' 'The Cincinnati Post 'Entertaining and wise . . . In addition to his furious energy and true ear, Mailer is simpatico with humanity.' 'The New Republic 'Courage amid uncertainty is, as always, Mailer's highest virtue.' 'New York

Praise for Of a Fire on the Moon 'Witty and triumphant . . . [Mailer is] that rarest of birds in an age of polarization and subideology, a free and unpredictable mind.' 'The New York Times Book Review 'Forty years on and with many rereadings, I still cannot get through [Mailer's] descriptions of SaturnApollo without a gulp. . . . [Mailer delivers] pages of sudden, bursting generosity. . . . All writing benefits from economy and restraint: Mailer has the confidence, the talent and the enthusiasm to break the rules, to pile on the words and imagery, and get away with it.' 'The Guardian 'An immense story worthy of Mailer's famed prose . . . Cold technology would not always prevail, but it did for a while, and Mailer's book charts it breathlessly, dramatically.' 'Spike Magazine

By Norman Mailer The Naked and the Dead Barbary Shore The Deer Park Advertisements for Myself Deaths for the Ladies (and Other Disasters) The Presidential Papers An American Dream Cannibals and Christians Why Are We in Vietnam? The Deer Park? A Play The Armies of the Night Miami and the Siege of Chicago Of a Fire on the Moon The Prisoner of Sex Maidstone Existential Errands St. George and the Godfather Marilyn The Faith of Graffiti The Fight Genius and Lust The Executioner's Song Of Women and Their Elegance Pieces and Pontifications Ancient Evenings Tough Guys Don't Dance Harlot's Ghost Oswald's Tale: An American Mystery Portrait of Picasso as a Young Man The Gospel According to the Son The Time of Our Time The Spooky Art Why Are We at War? Modest Gifts The Castle in the Forest On God (with J. Michael Lennon) Mind of an Outlaw

Of a Fire on the Moon

Of a Fire on the Moon Norman Mailer R A N D O M H O U S E T R A D E PA P E R B A C K S N E W Y O R K

2014 Random House Trade Paperback Edition Copyright ? 1969, 1970 by Norman Mailer All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Random House Trade Paperbacks, an imprint of Random House, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York. Random House and the House colophon are registered trademarks of Random House LLC. Originally published in hardcover in the United States by Little, Brown and Company in 1969. ISBN 978-0-553-39061-2 eBook ISBN 978-0-553-39062-9 Printed in the United States of America on acidfree paper 987654321 Book design by Christopher M. Zucker

For Susan, for Dandy, for Betsey and Kate, for Michael and Stephen Mailer

The author wishes to acknowledge his indebtedness to First on the? Moon by Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin E. Aldrin,'Jr., for the field of quotation it offered.

Contents Part I. Aquarius 1. A Loss of Ego 3 2. The Psychology of Astronauts 18 3. Some Origins of the Fire 49 4. The Greatest Week 102 5. A Dream of the Future's Face 129 Part II. Apollo 1. The Psychology of Machines 153 2. A Trajectory to the Moon 207 3. A Day in Space and Another Day 246 4. The Near Side and the Far Side 274 5. The Iron of Astronauts 306 6. The Ride Down 334 7. A Sleep on the Moon 373 Part III. The Age of Aquarius 1. The Hanging of the Highwayman 425 2. 'The World Is Bigger Infinitely? 432 3. A Burial by the Sea 450

PART I Aquarius

CHAPTER 1 A Loss of Ego Now sleeps he with that old whore death . . . Do thee take this old whore death for thy lawful wedded wife? ernest Hemingway Norman, born sign of Aquarius, had been in Mexico when the news came about Hemingway. He had gone through the New York Times to read the wellturned remarks of notables who for the most part had never cared about Papa, not that much! and had one full heartclot of outraged vanity that the Times never thought to ask his opinion. In fact, he was not certain he could have given it. He was sick in that miasmal and not quite discoverable region between the liver and the soul. Hemingway's suicide left him wedded to horror. It is possible that in the eight years since, he never had a day which was completely free of thoughts of death. Of course, he finally gave a statement. His fury that the world was not run so well as he could run it encouraged him to speak. The world could always learn from what he had to say? his confidence was built on just so hard a diamond. Besides, a British lady columnist passing through Mexico with him thought it would be appropriate to get his remarks on the demise. This, after all, was special stuff? the reactions of one of America's bestknown young

NORMAN MAILER novelists would certainly be appropriate to the tragic finale of America's greatest living writer. So with thoughts of Hemingway's brain scattered now in every atmosphere? what a curse to put upon his followers!' Norman coughed up what was in effect a political statement. He had no taste in such matters, and a pedagogic voice for public remarks leave it that he inveighed gracelessly on how the death would put secret cheer in every bureaucrat's heart for they would be stronger now. He had, of course, been thinking that Hemingway constituted the walls of the fort: Hemingway had given the power to believe you could still shout down the corridor of the hospital, live next to the breath of the beast, accept your portion of dread each day. Now the greatest living romantic was dead. Dread was loose. The giant had not paid his dues, and something awful was in the air. Technology would fill the pause. Into the silences static would enter. It was conceivable that man was no longer ready to share the dread of the Lord. II Are we poised for a philosophical launch? There may be no way to do anything less. We will be trying after all to comprehend the astronauts. If we approach our subject via Aquarius, it is because he is a detective of sorts, and different in spirit from eight years ago. He has learned to live with questions. Of course, as always, he has little to do with the immediate spirit of the time. Which is why Norman on this occasion wonders if he may call himself Aquarius. Born January 31, he is entitled to the name, but he thinks it a fine irony that we now enter the Age of Aquarius since he has never had less sense of possessing the age. He feels in fact little more than a decent spirit, somewhat shunted to the side. It is the best possible position for detective work. Forgive him, then, if he takes mild pleasure in conjunction of dates. John F. Kennedy had made his declaration concerning the moon not six weeks before Hemingway was dead. The nation, Kennedy decided, 'should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and return-

OF A FIRE ON THE MOON 5 ing him safely to the earth. . . . This is a new ocean, and I believe the United States must sail upon it.' Presumably, the moon was not listening, but if, in fact, she were the receiving and transmitting station of all lunacy, then she had not been ignoring the nation since. Four assassinations later a war in Vietnam later a burning of Black ghettos later hippies, drugs and many student uprisings later one Democratic Convention in Chicago seven years later one New York school strike later one sexual revolution later yes, eight years of a dramatic, nearcatastrophic, outright spooky decade later, we were ready to make the moon. It was a decade so unbalanced in relation to previous American history that Aquarius, who had begun it by stabbing his second wife in 1960, was to finish by running in a Democratic Primary for Mayor of New York during the hottest May and June he could ever recall. In sixty days he must have made three hundred speeches, he appeared on more radio and television than he could remember, walked streets, shook hands, sometimes two or three thousand hands a day, worked fourteen hours a day, often sixteen, went on four and five hours sleep, and awoke on many a morning with the clear and present certainty that he was going to win. Norman was lazy, and politics would make him work for sixteen hours a day the rest of his life. He was so guilty a man that he thought he would be elected as a fit and proper punishment for his sins. Still, he also wanted to win. He would never write again if he were Mayor (the job would doubtless strain his talent to extinction) but he would have his hand on the rump of History, and Norman was not without such lust. He came in fourth in a field of five, and politics was behind him. He had run, when he considered it, no very remarkable race. He had obviously not had any apocalyptic ability to rustle up huge numbers of votes. He had in fact been left with a huge boredom about himself. He was weary of his own voice, own face, person, persona, will, ideas, speeches, and general sense of importance. He felt not unhappy, mildly depressed, somewhat used up, wise, tolerant, sad, void of vanity, even had a hint of humility. Somewhat

NORMAN MAILER disembodied spirit. He burned something in his soul those eight weeks of campaigning, but he was not certain just what he might have squandered. Nonetheless, he might be in superb shape to study the flight of Apollo'11 to the moon. For he was detached this season from the imperial demands of his ego he could think about astronauts, space, space programs, and the moon, quite free of the fact that none of these heroes, presences, and forces were by any necessity friendly to him. No, he felt like a spirit of some justconsumed essence of the past, and so finally took the liberty to christen himself Aquarius. It was the perfect name for a man who would begin the study of rockets. The waterbearer traversed the earth and breathed the air: three elements were his medium, solid, liquid, and gas. That was kin to the rocket. Apollo'11 would leave the earth, travel on the combustion of its liquids, and traverse space. What indeed was space but the final decompression of a gas? On such unscientific thoughts did Norman, sign of Aquarius, travel. III In the middle of his Mayoralty campaign, a story had appeared whose small headlines stated that he would receive a million dollars for doing a book about the astronauts. It was a peculiar story, because the sums listed in the journalistic details added up to $450,000, and this second figure, while certainly too generous, was not vastly inaccurate. Actually, Aquarius would be lucky if he were left with any real money at all, for he was in debt from having made three movies (for which he had put up the cash himself ) and he calculated that with the restitution of consequent borrowings, and the payment of taxes, he would have enough to live and think for a year. Not so bad. He had only to write a book about the moon shot. Small matter. It would be as easy to go to the Amazon to study moon rocks as to write a book about these space matters, foreign to him, which everyone would agree is worth a million dollars. In fact everyone thought he was worth a million dollars already. Contributions for his campaign to the Mayoralty stopped

OF A FIRE ON THE MOON 7 on the instant the story appeared. He did not know whether to bless the gods, the Times, or somebody in the office of his agent. Of course, he was not displeased that everyone thought a quick book by him? magazine, hardcover, paperback, foreign rights, and syndication? was worth a million. While Aquarius had never been accorded the respect he thought he deserved as a novelist, he had been granted in compensation the highest praise as a journalist. People he had never met were forever declaring in print that he was the best journalist in America. He thought it was the superb irony of his professional life, for he knew he was not even a good journalist and possibly could not hold a top job if he had to turn in a story every day. He had known such journalists, and their work was demanding. They had first of all to have enormous curiosity, and therefore be unable to rest until they found out the secret behind even the smallest event. Since Aquarius had long built his philosophical world on the firm conviction that nothing was finally knowable (an exact and proper recompense to having spent his formative years and young manhood in searching for the true nature of women) he had almost no interest in the small secret behind a small event. (There was invariably another secret behind that.) He preferred to divine an event through his senses? since he was as nearsighted as he was vain, he tended to sniff out the center of a situation from a distance. So his mind often stayed out of contact with the workings of his brain for days at a time. When it was time, lo and behold, he seemed to have comprehended the event. That was one advantage of using the nose? technology had not yet succeeded in elaborating a science of smell. But calculate for yourself the small ails and woes which came upon Aquarius when he went to visit the NASA Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston two weeks after the conclusion of his Mayoralty campaign. The first and most unhappy truth was that there were no smells coming out of NASA. It was hardly the terrain for Aquarius. He had grown up in New York. He understood cities, particularly big cities, he had looked forward to getting to know a little of

NORMAN MAILER Houston? now, draw near to his vast pleasure in discovering that the Manned Spacecraft Center was not in Houston at all, but located about twentyfive miles south in the middle of that flat anonymous and near to treeimpoverished plain which runs in one undistinguished and not very green stretch from Houston to Galveston. Farther east as he would soon discover was Seabrook, Kemah, and Texas City south of that, then Galveston on the Gulf. Raunchy, sexy, hot and brooding, houses on stilts and old shacks? that was the Gulf of Mexico. He liked it. If he lived there, he too would write like Tennessee Williams. Tennessee, he discovered by this visit, was a natural and simple recorder of the elements. All that, however, was miles away. MSC (the Manned Spacecraft Center) was located on a tract of many acres, flat and dry as a'parking lot, and at the moment of entering the gate past the guard, there was no way to determine whether one was approaching an industrial complex in which computers and electronic equipment were fashioned, or traveling into a marvelously uptodate minimumsecurity prison, not a clue to whether one was visiting the largest insurance and financing corporation which had ever decided to relocate itself in the flatlands behind a fence, or if this geometrically ordered arrangement of white modern buildings, severe, ascetic, without ornament, nearly all of two or three stories but for an Administration Building of eight stories, was indeed the newest and finest kind of hospital for radiological research. But, perhaps it was a college campus, one of those miserable brandnew college campuses with buildings white as toothpaste, windows set in aluminum casements, paths drawn by right angle or in carefully calculated zigzag to break the right angle, and a general air of studies in business administration, a college campus in short to replace the one which burned in the last revolution of the students. In fact, it was the Manned Spacecraft Center, MSC, the home of the astronauts, the place where they were given the bulk of their training in Mission Simulators and Docking Simulators, the Center from which Mission Control would direct and collaborate

OF A FIRE ON THE MOON 9 on their flights, the astronauts? brain on earth, to nail it thus crudely, when they were up in space. And if this assembly of buildings looked as we have said like the worst of future college campuses, allbuttreeless, milkofmagnesia white, and composed of many windowless buildings and laboratories which seemed to house computers, and did! why the error was in fact natural. For when Lyndon Johnson, then Vice President, succeeded in getting the unmistakable plum of the new Manned Spacecraft Center located in Texas on land he just happened to know about south of Houston owned by some nice fellows named Humble (Humble Oil & Refining) and ready for the Federal Government to purchase reasonable? reasonable a word capable of being reasoned and expanded with upon occasion? why this purchase might even have a clause inserted that the buildings to be constructed must be capable, in the event of the demise of NASA and the Space Program, of being converted without difficulty into an adjunct of Rice University in Houston. Could it be a cryptocampus after all! Let no one say that Lyndon Johnson was not a super local patriot always working for TALC (Texas Association for the Advancement of Local Culture). Recognize then how much this Manned Spacecraft Center would honor Aquarius? sense of smell. Outside the Spacecraft Center, he could not say that his situation was improved. The immediate suburb, Nassau Bay, which housed many of the technicians, engineers, and executives in NASA, was situated on the other side of NASA Highway 1 from MSC, and was built around a body of water called Clear Lake. Nassau Bay and adjoining suburbs like it were all new, their roads laid out in winding turns so absent of surprise that you could recognize they came off the French curve of the draftsman. If these homes were architecturally reasonable, built in sedate earth colors for the most part, charcoal browns, subdued clayorange, stonecolored tans, houses which were modern but restrained adaptations for the most part of Swiss chalets, Tudor and Elizabethan, with hints of hacienda and ranch corral, they were nonetheless without flavor or odor. Aquarius was

10 NORMAN MAILER discovering that we cherish the sense of smell because it gives us our relation to time. We know how old something is by its odor its youth, its becoming and its decay are subtly compounded to tell us at once? if we dare to contemplate mortality? how much time has been appropriated by such a life. Nor were the people who worked for NASA bound to help him, since they were also by every evidence part of that vast convocation of Americans, probably a majority, whom one saw in New York only on television. They were, in short, Wasps, and it was part of the folklore of New York that Wasps were without odor. From the vantage point of New York, Wasps were already halfway to the moon, and devoted their efficiency to earning enough money to purchase large amounts of deodorant, depilatory, mouthwash, hair spray, and if they were ladies? Arrid. But these jokes are not very good. It would be tasteless to dwell on anybody's insulation from odor but for the fact that if this thesis is correct, if we honor or fear the presence of odors because they are a root to the past and an indication of the future, are indeed our very marriage to time and mortality, why then it is no accident that the Wasps were, in the view of Aquarius, the most Faustian, barbaric, draconian, progressoriented, and rootdestroying people on earth. They had divorced themselves from odor in order to dominate time, and thereby see if they were able to deliver themselves from death! No less! It is fiendish to get into such exaggeration so early, but think where Dr. Christiaan Barnard would be today if on the threshold of his first heart transplant, he had declared, 'Nope, this organ ain't funky enough to make its new home happy!' Obviously, then, if the great brain of NASA were attached to any particular sense, it was the eye. The eye was the collector of incontrovertible facts (which at MSC they called datapoints). So the men who worked off NASA Highway 1 at the Manned Spacecraft Center were all cleareyed and bulleteyed and berryeyed (pupils no larger than hard small acidic little berries) and they all seemed to wear dark pants, shortsleeve buttondown white shirts

OF A FIRE ON THE MOON 11 and somber narrow ties. They all had identification badges pinned to their shirt pockets and they wore them with pride. Practically all had straight hair, and most of them cut it close. Whether they were tall or short, they were rarely overweight, and the only distinction between them which enabled Aquarius to differentiate these engineers, technicians and young executives from one another was that many wore hornrimmed glasses with dark frames, and these fellows were usually smaller, more sallow, and with that absolute lack of surface provocation, or idiosyncrasy of personality, which characterizes physicists, engineering students, statisticians, computer technicians, and many a young man of science. By accent, appearance, and manner they could have come from any part of America, although most, Aquarius judged, were from the Midwest. The other category belonged in general to men who were taller, more athletic, meanerlooking, sunburned upon occasion? despite their hours of work in airconditioned rooms? and had the contained anger and cool crisp manner of men who have domiciled their unruly and bustout impulses: so they emit a sense of discipline, order, and unmistakably virile, if controlled, determination. Aquarius who, for all his fortysix years and wretched inability to lose weight, liked to keep a sense of his own virility? what more valuable possession had an artist'? was obliged somewhat ruefully to recognize that this second category of men were tough. They reminded him of the officers and enlisted men of the Texas outfit, the 112th Cavalry, in which he had served overseas during the war. So he took it for granted that these executives, athleteengineers, hondos on Mission Control, aides or instructors for various astronaut training courses, and general troubleshooters were in the main from the Southwest. They had a lot of morale. They were so proud of NASA, the astronauts, the Command Module, Lem, the United States of America that their voices went husky a hint when they talked about such topics. Yet both categories of men were absolutely helpful in every way. But in such a way that they were no help at all to Aquarius.

12 NORMAN MAILER There was a style at NASA he had begun to divine. Every question you asked was answered and the truth so far as he knew was always told. It was as if NASA, unlike other Government bureaus, had recognized why honesty is the best policy? it is simply because no intriguer will ever believe the truth which is presented to him, but will rather interpret it as a lie which only he can transform into the buried fact. The assumption is that honest men will come to recognize your truth can make them strong. So everybody at NASA was courteous, helpful, generous of information, saintly at repeating the same information a hundred times, and subtly proud of their ability to serve interchangeably for one another, as if the real secret of their discipline and their strength and their sense of morale was that they had depersonalized themselves to the point where they were true Christians, gentle, helpful, replaceable, and serving on a messianic mission. The only flaw was that the conversation could only voyage through predetermined patterns. They would do their best to answer any technical question in the world, and voluminous mimeographings of NASA literature, often valuable enough to be classified, were available to all the Press. It was just that there was no way to suggest any philosophical meandering. Like real Americans, they always talked in code. It happened to be technological code. 'The whole philosophy of power descent monitoring is that when the Pings [PGNCS] have degraded . . .' or 'The bulk of Delta V is to kill his retrograde component.' These were notes Aquarius picked out for himself after a half hour of talking to the Chief of Flight Operations Division, who would help to bring the Lem down to the surface of the moon, a hard greeneyed crewcut man in his thirties named Gene Kranz who looked and talked like a professional football quarterback. And in fact his problems were not dissimilar. They arrived at the same rate of speed and were as massive. 'During the first five minutes of descent,' Kranz said, 'the landing will be almost luxurious. But during the last three minutes, he'll be coming like Whistling Dixie.' Behind Kranz as he spoke were the twentyodd consoles and the fortyplus screens, the dull graygreen walls, the thirty-

OF A FIRE ON THE MOON 13 five square lights inset in the ceiling? the gray controlled environment of the Mission Control room. Kranz lived with phrases like Primary Guidance and Navigation Section and Abort Guidance Section (Pings and Ags), Service Modulator Controllers, Power Descent Information, Program Descent Rates, Sequential Events Control System, Time of Ephemeris Update, Transponder, he spoke of T Eff Em, and Reference Stable Member Matrix, of SMC, and PDI, SECST, the names and their related initials were used interchangeably? Kranz lived in a world of instruments and concepts which would take years for Aquarius to command well enough to make judgments on the other's character. Yes, real Americans always spoke in code. They encapsulated themselves into technological clans. Codes were like bloodlines. So they could be friendly and helpful and polite but they quietly separated themselves when their codes did not flourish. Aquarius was obliged to recognize that if the machine seemed a functional object to the artist, an instrument whose significance was that it was there to be'used? as a typewriter was used for typing a manuscript? so to the engineer it was the communication itself which was functional. The machine was the art. Perhaps for that reason, relations with these engineers reminded Aquarius of how he felt when he looked at the windowless walls of new buildings now sprouting all over the mean dry fields of the Space Center and the corporation developments outside the fence. These windowless buildings were as sinister to him as the arbitrary growth of ugly species of mushrooms in the middle of nowhere. These architectural fungoids were there to say: 'Lo, we work in the electronics computeroid complex, and need no windows, for we are the architectural skull case for a new kind of brain.' Windowless, they also lack ears, so he cannot tell them, 'My eyes are my windows.' 'Recognize,' the windowless walls say, 'that something is taking over from you, kid.' He stayed in a motel surprising in its luxury on this Texas plain. He had two rooms, and one room had a private indoor pool four

14 NORMAN MAILER feet deep, seven feet long, and five feet wide, with a green light overhead. The other room had a full kingsized circular bed with a red velvet cover. He discovered on inquiry that the motel had been decorated by a new owner who hoped to attract honeymoon couples to memories of the deluxe in the middle of the flatlands. But the clientele continued to consist of engineers visiting MSC from corporations which did business with NASA. Aquarius had a picture of some of the engineers he had met, the ones with the lunar pallor, sleeping in the round red velvetcovered kingsized bed. As if to emphasize this conjunction of the two centuries, the red velvet of the Nineteenth and the gray transistors of the Twentieth, there was a club in the motel with two go-go girls and one of them walked off abruptly one night and went to the bar. When the bartender whispered to her, she went back to the platform, turned on the jukebox again, giggled and said to the technologyridden air of her audience, 'Shucks, I plumb forgot to take off my clothes.' She was a round sullen country girl. Aquarius saw her dance another night when she was full of relish for her work, slinging her breasts, undulating her belly on a river of cogitating promise? the voracity of her hipsock suggested she was one real alligator, but then six of her friends were in from Houston and sitting in the center seats, and they looked to have just gotten off their motorcycles. They were hardly from NASA. There were exceptions to these uniform varieties of experience. He spent a night talking to Pete Conrad? Charles Conrad, Jr., the astronaut who would command Apollo? 12 on the flight to the moon after Apollo'11? and it was not a bad night. Conrad was wiry, he was feisty, he could rap without too much of a look over his shoulder for the proprieties, and his wife Jane was sensationally attractive in a quiet way. They had four young and handsome sons, one of whom, Tommy, aged twelve, became famous forever in Aquarius? mind because he obliged a photographer by riding his bicycle off the slope of the garage roof right into the swimming pool. Norman was invited back to a party the Conrads gave for their neighbors, and he had a good time? it was a party like a night

OF A FIRE ON THE MOON 15 in Westchester, except that it was Texas, so he finally got into a bathing suit in order not to wrestle up and down the edge of the pool when enthusiasts were ready to throw him in. Agreeably drunk, he stood under the hot Texas night in the hot Texas pool, laughing with two Texas ladies? it was at least an approach to the sensate experience of the East. And the next day he remembered Conrad saying to him over the outdoor steak grill? 'For six years I've been dreaming of going to the moon,' and the moon? as a real and tangible companion of the mind? was suddenly there before him. He saw Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins through much of a long day they spent in press conferences with the newspapers, magazines, and the television networks, and he learned much. (In the absence of a sense of smell, the hairs in his nostrils began to quiver at clues.) He thought about astronauts often. He would probably be able to produce an interesting thought or two on the psychology of astronauts. He felt as if he had begun the study of a new world so mysterious to his detective's heart (all imaginative novelists, by this logic, are detectives) that he could only repeat what he'had said on the day the assignment was first offered to him: it was that he hardly knew whether the Space Program was the noblest expression of the Twentieth Century or the quintessential'statement of our fundamental insanity. It was after all the mark of insanity that its mode of operation was distinguished by its logic? insanity was often more logical than sanity when it came to attacking a problem. Something of this question was in his mind when he talked to Dr. Gilruth, Robert R. Gilruth, Director of the Manned Spacecraft Center, but of course he did not pose the question directly and if he had, would not have gotten an answer. Speculation was on nobody's program at NASA. In any case, Gilruth was hardly one of the new technicians. A man in his late fifties, he had worked as a student under Piccard, the old balloonist, and had discovered the jet stream when a balloon built by his wife and himself was sent up in Minnesota and came down in Mississippi. This was the sort

16 NORMAN MAILER of story Gilruth had obviously told before to make an item in many a feature story, it was a way of keeping the interviewer away, and Aquarius recognized after a while that Dr. Gilruth was a man who had probably developed his official style in the Eisenhower period, in fact he looked like a mild version of Eisenhower in the midFifties, he was half bald in about the same way, and had deep gentle sympathetic eyes which gave him almost a saintly appearance he talked in a quiet voice in his large office high up in the Administration Building and therefore facing down on the rectilinear play of the campus walks and buildings. Aquarius looked for something charitable to say about the view, but that proved too hard to produce, so he tried to win Gilruth's confidence in other ways. But the good doctor was not particularly responsive to questions, which is to emphasize that he would take an ordinary question and go on at such length in his reply, rambling through such hesitancies? as if the act of speech were painful to him? that the next question was hardly spurred to appear. He was remarkably gentle and determinedly undistinguished, as if his deepest private view suggested that good administration and public communication were best kept apart. In this sense, he was certainly no proper representative of the NASA style, much rather like a Chinese mandarin? completely pleasant, altogether remote? it occurred that Eisenhower had also been a mandarin. Just once did Aquarius reach him. He asked: 'Are you ever worried, Dr. Gilruth, that landing on the moon may result in all sorts of psychic disturbances for us here on earth'? At the look of pain in Gilruth's eyes at the thought of mustering NASAtype answers for this sort of question, Aquarius went on quickly, 'I mean, many people seem to react to the full moon, and there are tides of course.' He was not mistaken. As he stammered into silence, there was the breath of dread in the room. Just a hint, but his nostril quivered. Gilruth was feeling the same silence he could swear to that. And Gilruth, when he answered, spoke gratefully of the tides and yes, they had an effect on geography and men's industry by the

OF A FIRE ON THE MOON 17 sea? no answer could have been more Eisenhooverian? but then as if the question held him also in its grip, Gilruth came out of this long divagation to say that? yes, he had looked at some figures on the subject, and there seemed to be a higher incidence of hospital commission reports of admission to mental institutions during the full moon. Dread in the room again, and a silence between the two men which was exactly opposite to the silence of expectation when sex is near, no, now it was the opposite, how rather to move off this point, this continuing mounting silence. Who would be most implicated by breaking it? Now silence became the palpable appearance of the present, that breath of the present which holds all ultimates in its grip. Gilruth took responsibility by saying at last, 'I expect the moon is many things to many men. From Frank Borman's description on Apollo 8 we thought of it as rather a forbidding place'? he looked gloomy in recollection? 'whereas Stafford and Cernan and Young give us the idea from Apollo 10 that the moon is agreeable, so to speak, and not at all unpleasant but perhaps kind of a nice place to be,' and he smiled gently, hopefully, but perhaps a little regretfully for filling his share of the silence. They nodded at one another.

CHAPTER 2 The Psychology of Astronauts Well, let us make an approach to the astronauts. Aquarius sees them for the first time on the fifth of July, eleven days before the launch. They are in a modern movie theater with orange seats and a dark furrowed ceiling overhead, much like marcelled waves in a head of hair, a plastic ceiling built doubtless to the plans of one of the best sound engineers in the country. Sound is considerably ahead of smell as a fit province for scientific work, but since the excellence of acoustics in large and small concert chambers seems to bear more relation to old wood and the blessings of monarchs and bishops than to the latest development of the technical art, the sound system in this movie theater (seats 600) is dependably intolerable most of the time. The public address system squeals and squeaks (it is apparently easier to have communication with men one quarter of a million miles away) and one never gets a fair test of the aural accommodations. The walls and overhead are of plastic composition, and so far as one can tell, the tone is a hint sepulchral, then brightened electronically, finally harsh and punishing to that unnamed fine nerve which runs from the anus to the ear-

OF A FIRE ON THE MOON 19 drum. As the sound engineers became more developed, the plastic materials provided for their practice by corporations grew acoustically more precise and spiritually more flattening? it was the law of the century. One was forever adjusting to public voices through the subtlest vale of pain. Still this movie theater was the nearest approach to a diadem in the Manned Spacecraft Center. The theater was part of the visitors? center, where tourists could go through the space museum, a relatively modest affair of satellites, capsules, dioramas, posters and relics, now closed and given over to the installation of monitors and cables for the television networks, even as the gallery to the rear of the theater was now being converted into the Apollo News Center and would consist finally of endless aisles of desks, telephones and typewriters, plus one giant Buddha of a coffee urn. (Coffee is the closest the press ever comes to satori.) In the theater, perhaps eight rows back of the front seats, was a raised platform on which television cameras and crews were mounted. From the stage they must have looked not unrelated to artillery pieces on the battlement of a fort? in the front row were fifty photographers, which is to say fifty sets of torsos and limbs each squeezed around its own large round glass eye. Little flares of lightning flashed out of bulbs near their heads. The astronauts did not really have to travel to the moon? life from another planet was before them already. In the middle ranks, between the front row and the barricade of television cameras, were seated several hundred newspaper men and women come to Houston for the conference this morning. They were a curious mixture of high competence and near imbecility some assigned to Space for years seemed to know as much as NASA engineers others, innocents in for the big play on the moon shot, still were not just certain where laxatives ended and physics began. It was as if research students from the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton had been put in with a group of fine young fellows from an Army class in remedial reading. Out of such a bag would questions come to the astronauts. Wait! There will be samples.

20 NORMAN MAILER The astronauts entered from the wings wearing gas masks, gray snoutnosed covers which projected out from their mouths and gave their profiles the intent tuskready slouch of razorback hogs. They were aware of this? it was apparent in the good humor with which they came in. In fact, a joke of some dimensions had been flickering for a few days? the Press had talked of greeting them with white hospital masks. In the attempt to protect the astronauts as much as possible from preflight infection they were being kept in a species of limited quarantine? their contacts with nonessential personnel were restricted. Since journalists fit this category, today's press conference had installed Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins up on the stage in a plastic box about twelve feet wide, ten feet deep and ten feet high. Blowers within this threewalled plastic room blew air from behind them out into the audience: thereby, the breath of the astronauts could enter the theater, but the airborne germs of journalists would not blow back. It made a kind of sense. Of course the cause of the common cold was still unknown, but gross studies of infection would surmise a partial quarantine might be effective partially. However, the instrumentation of this premise was not happy. The astronauts looked a bit absurd in their plastic box, and the few journalists who had actually fleshed their joke by putting on masks caused the astronauts to grin broadly as though to dissociate themselves from the pyramids of precaution they were in fact obeying. Once they sat down, their manner changed. They were seated behind a walnutbrown desk on a pale blue base which displayed two painted medallions in circles? NASA and Apollo'11. Behind them at the rear of the plastic booth stood an American flag the Press actually jeered when somebody brought it onstage in advance of the astronauts. Aquarius could not remember a press conference where Old Glory had ever been mocked before, but it had no great significance, suggesting rather a splash of derision at the thought that the show was already sufficiently American enough. In fact, between the steady reporters who worked out of Houston

OF A FIRE ON THE MOON 21 and the astronauts, there was that kind of easy needling humor which is the measure of professional respect to be found among teams and trainers. So the entrance went well. The astronauts walked with the easy saunter of athletes. They were comfortable in motion. As men being scrutinized by other men they had little to worry about. Still, they did not strut. Like all good professional athletes, they had the modesty of knowing you could be good and still lose. Therefore they looked to enjoy the snouts they were wearing, they waved at reporter friends they recognized, they grinned. A reporter called back to Collins, 'Now, you look good.' It all had that characteristically American air which suggests that men who are successful in their profession do best to take their honors lightly. Once they sat down, however, the mood shifted. Now they were there to answer questions about a phenomenon which even ten years ago would have been considered material unfit for serious discussion. Grown men, perfectly normallooking, were now going to talk about their trip to the moon. It made everyone uncomfortable. For the relation of everyone to each other and to the event was not quite real. It was as if a man had died and been brought back from death. What if on questioning he turned out to be an ordinary fellow? 'Well, you see,' he might say, 'having visited death, I come back with the following conclusions . . .' What if he had a droning voice? There was something of this in the polite unreality of the questioning. The century was like a youth who made love to the loveliest courtesan in Cathay. Afterward he was asked what he thought and scratched his head and said, 'I don't know. Sex is kind of overrated.' So now people were going to ask questions of three heroes about their oncoming voyage, which on its face must be in contention for the greatest adventure of man. Yet it all felt as if three young junior executives were announcing their corporation's newest subdivision. Perhaps for this reason, the quiet gaiety of their entrance had

22 NORMAN MAILER deserted them as they sat behind the desk in the plastic booth. Now it was as if they did not know if they were athletes, test pilots, engineers, corporation executives, some new kind of priest, or sheepish American boys caught in a position of outlandish prominence? my God, how did they ever get into this? It was as if after months in simulators with knowing technicians geared to the same code languages, they were now debouched into the open intellectual void of this theater, obliged to look into the uncomprehending spirits of several hundred media tools (human) all perplexed and worried at their journalistic ability to grasp more than the bare narrative of what was coming up. Yaws abounded. Vacuums in the magnetism of the mood. Something close to boredom. The astronauts were going to the moon, but everybody was a little frustrated? the Press because the Press did not know how to push into nittygritty for the questions, the astronauts because they were not certain how to begin to explain the complexity of their technique. Worse, as if they did not really wish to explain, but were obliged out of duty to the program, even if their privacy was invaded. So the conference dragged on. While the focus of attention was naturally on Armstrong for commanding the flight, he seemed in the beginning to be the least at ease. He spoke with long pauses, he searched for words. When the words came out, their ordinary content made the wait seem excessive. He minted no phrases. 'We are here? . . . a pause . . . 'to be able to talk about this attempt? . . . a'real pause, as if the next experience were ineffable but with patience would yet be captured . . . 'because of the success of four previous Apollo command flights? . . . pause, as if to pick up something he had left out . . . 'and a number of unmanned flights.' A shy smile. 'Each of those flights'? he was more wooden than young Robert Taylor, young Don Ameche, young Randolph Scott? 'contributed in a great way? . . . deprecatory smile . . . 'to this flight.' As a speaker he was all but limp? still it did not leave him unremarkable. Certainly the knowledge he was an astronaut restored his stature, yet even if he had been a junior executive

OF A FIRE ON THE MOON 23 accepting an award, Armstrong would have presented a quality which was arresting, for he was extraordinarily remote. He was simply not like other men. He would have been more extraordinary in fact if he had been just a salesman making a modest inept dull little speech, for then one would have been forced to wonder how he had ever gotten his job, how he could sell even one item, how in fact he got out of bed in the morning. Something particularly innocent or subtly sinister was in the gentle remote air. If he had been a young boy selling subscriptions at the door, one grandmother might have warned her granddaughter never to let him in the house another would have commented, 'That boy will go very far.' He was apparently in communion with some string in the universe others did not think to play. Collins and Aldrin followed with their opening remarks, and they had personalities which were more comfortable to grasp. Aldrin, all meat and stone, was a man of solid presentation, dependable as a tractor, but suggesting the strength of a tank, dull, almost ponderous, yet with the hint of unpredictability, as if, eighteen drinks in him, his eyes would turn red, he would armwrestle a gorilla or invite you to join him in jumping out a thirdstory window in order to see who could do the better somersault on the followthrough out of the landing. This streak was radium and encased within fifty psychical and institutional caskings of lead, but it was there, Aquarius thought, perhaps a clue in the way he dressed? very dressy for an astronaut? a green luminous silk suit, a white shirt, a green luminous tie. It clashed with the stolid presentation of his language. Aldrin spoke in a deep slow comfortingly nasal tone? a mighty voice box? his face was strong and grim. The movie director in Aquarius would have cast him on the spot for Major in Tank Cavalry. He had big features and light brown hair, almost gold. His eyes took a turn down like samurai eyes, the corners of his lips took a rightangle turn down? it gave him the expression of a serious man at home on a field of carnage, as if he were forever saying, 'This is serious stuff, fellows, there's lots of blood around.' So Aldrin also looked like the kind of jock

24 NORMAN MAILER who could be headmaster of a prep school. He had all the lockerroom heartiness and solemnity of a team man. Although he had been a polevaulter at West Point, it would have been easy to mistake him for a shotputter, a lacrosse player, or a baseball catcher. In football he would have probably been a linebacker. For this last, he was actually not big enough (since the astronauts were required to be no more than five feet eleven inches tall and could hardly be overweight), but he was one of those men who looked larger than his size for his condition was excellent? every discipline of his moves spoke of grim devoted unrelenting support given to all his bodyworld of muscle. From the back of the neck to the joints of the toes, from the pectorals to the hamstrings, the deltoids to the abdominals, he was a life given over to good physical condition, a form of grace, since the agony of the lungs when straining is not alien to the agony of the soul. Leave it that Aldrin was so strong he had a physical presence which was bigger than his bulk. He talked like a hardworking drill. He had the reputation of being the best physicist and engineer among the astronauts? he had written a valuable thesis on Orbital Rendezvous Techniques at MIT, but he put no humor into his presentation, he was selling no soap. If you did not read technologese, you might as well forget every last remark for his words did not translate, not unless you were ready to jog along with him on technology road. Here is the way he gave himself to the Press: 'We do have a few items on the Lem side of the house on this particular mission. We'll be picking up where Apollo 10 left off when they did their phasing maneuver. And at this point after departing the Command Module, coming down in the descent orbit, we'll be igniting the descent engine for the first time under a long burn condition when it is not docked with the Command Module. And executing this burn under control of a computer, being directed towards the various targets that are fed into the computer will be new on this flight. Also we'll be making use of the landing radar and its inputs into the computer. Inputs in terms of altitude and velocity updates which will bring

OF A FIRE ON THE MOON 25 us down in the prescribed conditions as we approach the surface of the moon. Of course, the actual control of the touchdown itself will be a rather new item in that it will be testing this manmachine interface to a very sophisticated degree. The touchdown itself will be the ultimate test on the landing gear and the various systems that are in the spacecraft. The environment of onesixth G will be seen for the first time by crews and spacecraft. We'll also be exposed to thermal conditions that have not been experienced before. The twoman EVA is something that is a first in our program. Sleeping in the Lem on the lunar surface, which we hope to be able to do, will be another new item in that flight.' He went on to talk of star sightings and the powered ascent from the moon? that moment when, having landed successfully and reconnoitered the moon ground, they would be back in the Lem and ready to ascend? would the motor ignite or did the moon have a curse? Aldrin spoke of this as a 'new item,' then of rendezvous with the Command Module, which would return them to earth, of 'various contingencies that can develop,' of 'a wider variety of trajectory conditions'? he was talking about not being able to join up, wandering through space, lost forever to life in that short eternity before they expired of hunger and thirst. Small hint of that in these verbal formulations. Even as the Nazis and the Communists had used to speak of mass murder as liquidation, so the astronauts spoke of possible personal disasters as 'contingency.' The heart of astronaut talk, like the heart of all bureaucratic talk, was a jargon which could be easily converted to computer programming, a language like Fortran or Cobol or Algol. Antidread formulations were the center of it, as if words like pills were there to suppress emotional symptoms. Yet Aldrin, powerful as a small bull, deep as his grasp of Celestial Mechanics, gave off in his air of unassailable solemnity some incommunicable speech about the depth of men's souls and that razor's edge between the hero's endeavor and vainglory. Vainglory looked real to him, one might assume, real as true peril? he had the deep gloomy

26 NORMAN MAILER clumsy dignity of a man who had been face to face in some stricken hour with the depths of his own nature, more complex than he had hitherto known. Collins, in contrast, moved easily Collins was cool. Collins was the man nearly everybody was glad to see at a party, for he was the living spirit of good and graceful manners. Where Armstrong referred to Wapakoneta, Ohio, as his hometown, and showed a faint but ineradicable suspicion of anyone from a burg larger than his own, where Aldrin protected himself from conversation with the insulations of a suburban boyhood and encapsulement among his incommunicable fields of competency, Collins had been born in a wellset-up apartment off the Borghese Gardens in Rome. His father, General James L. Collins, was military attach? (and could conceivably have been having a drink around the corner in the bar at the Hassler to celebrate the birth of his son). Since the year was 1930, Dick Diver could have been getting his goingover from the Fascisti police in the basement of Tender Is the Night. No surprise then if Collins had a manner. It was in part the manner of Irish elegance? a man must be caught dead before he takes himself seriously. It was as if Collins were playing a fine woodwind which had the merriment and the sadness (now that the madness was gone) of those American expatriates for whom culture began in the Year One of The Sun Also Rises. Indeed, if Collins was later to grow a mustache on the trip back, an act which increased his slight but definite resemblance to the young Hemingway, he had a personal style which owed more to Fitzgerald. It was Fitzgerald, after all, who first suggested that you could become the nicest man in the world. So Collins had that friendliness which promises it would be sacrilege to give offense in a social situation. It was apparently as unnatural for him not to make a small joke as it would have been offensive to Aldrin not to take on a matter in its full seriousness. Yet Collins had little opportunity to show his humor. It existed mainly in the fine light smiling presence he bestowed on the interview while the others were asked all the questions. Collins was the

OF A FIRE ON THE MOON 27 only one of the three not landing on the moon. So he would obviously be the one whose remarks would go into the last paragraph, where the layout man would probably lop them off. Therefore nobody had bothered to direct a question to him through all the interview. Toward the end of the press conference, somebody asked of the astronauts at large, 'Two questions. Firstly, what precautions have been taken at your own homes to prevent you from catching germs from your own family? And secondly, is this the last period that you will spend at home here with your families'? The Public Affairs Officer, Brian Duff, was quick to say, 'Take a crack at that, Mike.' It could not have been easy to have waited so long for so little. But Collins came up smiling, and said, 'My wife and children have signed a statement that they have no germs and? and yes this will be the last weekend that we will be home with our families.' It was not much of a joke but the press conference had not been much of a joke either, and the Press brightened, they laughed. Collins, quick not to offend the man who had asked the question, now added, 'Seriously, there are no special precautions being taken.' His conversational manner was easy. It was apparent that of the three, he was the only one you could drink with comfortably. Since the ability to drink with your material is as important to a journalist as the heft of his hammer to a carpenter, a sense of dismay passed through the press corps? why hadn't NASA had the simple sense of press relations to put Collins in command? What a joy it could have been to cover this moon landing with a man who gave neat quotes, instead of having to contend with Armstrong, who surrendered words about as happily as a hound allowed meat to be pulled out of his teeth. Collins would have been perfect. In combination with his manner, so obviously at ease with a martini, he had the trim build, the bald forehead, and economical features of a college boxer, or a shortstop, or a quarterback. (In fact he was the best handball player among the astronauts and had been captain

28 NORMAN MAILER of his wrestling team at St. Albans.) He looked like copy, he talked like copy, and Armstrong had the sad lonely mien of a crosscountry runner. Of course, since he also had the sly privacy of a man whose thoughts may never be read? what a vast boon was this to the Press!' one could, if picturing Armstrong as an athlete, see him playing end. He might, thus sly and private, be difficult to keep up with on pass patterns. The story resided, however, with the two men who would land on the moon? it could reside nowhere else? but since Collins with a few smiles and a remark or two had become the favorite, a question and then another came his way at the end of the interview. Finally, the real question came. 'Colonel Collins, to people who are not astronauts, you would appear to have the most frustrating job on the mission, not going all the way. How do you feel about that'? The contradiction implicit in being an astronaut was here on this point? it was skewered right here. If they were astronauts, they were men who worked for the team, but no man became an astronaut who was not sufficiently exceptional to suspect at times that he might be the best of all. Nobody wins at handball who is not determined to win. He answered quickly. 'I don't feel in the slightest bit frustrated. I'm going 99.9 percent of the way there, and that suits me just fine.' Growing up in Rome, Puerto Rico, Baltimore and Washington, Texas and Oklahoma, son of one of the more cultivated purlieus of the military grace, the code would be to keep your cool. The only real guide to aristocracy in American life was to see who could keep his cool under the most searing conditions of unrest, envy, ambition, jealousy and heat. So not a quiver showed. 'I couldn't be happier right where I am,' he concluded and the voice was not hollow, it did not offer a cousin to a squeak. Still nobody believed him. Somewhere in the room was the leachedout air of a passion submitted to a discipline. For a moment Collins was damnably like an actor who plays a good guy. Armstrong came in quickly. 'I'd like to say in that regard that

OF A FIRE ON THE MOON 29 the man in the Command Module? . . . pause . . . 'of course by himself? . . . another pause . . . 'has a giantsized job.' When Armstrong paused and looked for the next phrase he sometimes made a sound like the open crackling of static on a pilot's voice band with the control tower. One did not have the impression that the static came from him so much as that he had listened to so much static in his life, suffered so much of it, that his flesh, his cells, like it or not, were impregnated with the very cracklings of static. 'He has to run Buzz's job and my job? . . . static . . . 'along with his own job simultaneously? . . . static . . . 'in addition act as relay to the ground? . . . pause and static . . . 'It's at least a threeman job and'? he murmured a few words? 'Michael is certainly not lacking for something to do while he's circling around.' Then Armstrong flashed a smile. One of his own jokes came. His humor was pleasant and smalltown, not without a taste of the tart. 'And if he can't think of anything else, he can always look out the window and admire the view.' Now came a question from a reporter who was new on the job: 'From your previous experience in the two and a half hours or so that you're atop the rocket before actual blastoff, is this a period of maximum tension, rather like being in a dentist's waiting room'? A temporary inability to understand the question was finally replaced by this speech. 'It's one of the phases that we have a very high confidence in,' Armstrong answered with his characteristic mixture of modesty and technical arrogance, of apology and tightlipped superiority. 'It's nothing new. It's the thing that's been done before,' now static while he searched for the appropriate addition, 'and done very well on a number of occasions, and we're quite sure this girl will go,' he said solemnly, pleasantly, lightly, carefully, sadly, sweetly. He was a presence in the room, as much a spirit as a man. One hardly knew if he were the spirit of the high thermal currents, or that spirit of neutrality which rises to the top in bureaucratic situations, or both, both of course? why should Armstrong have a soul less divided than the unruly world of some billions of men? Indeed contradictions lay subtly upon him? it

30 NORMAN MAILER was not unlike looking at a bewildering nest of leaves: some are autumn fallings, some the green of early spring. So Armstrong seemed of all the astronauts the man nearest to being saintly, yet there was something as hard, smalltown and used in his face as the look of a cashier over pennies. When he stopped to think, six tired parallel lines stood out on his forehead, and his hair was very straight, smalltown haircolored humorless straight, his pupils were very small, hardly larger than buckshot, you could believe he flew seventyeight combat missions off the Essex near Korea. He was very thinmouthed, almost as thin and wide a mouth as Joe E. Brown, yet with no comic spirit, or better, or worse, the spirit of comedy gave orders to the mouth most of the time. Much like President Nixon or Wernher von Braun (whom we are yet to meet) he would smile on command. Then a very useful smile appeared? the smile of an enterprising smalltown boy. He could be an angel, he could be the town's devil. Who knew? You could not penetrate the flash of the smile? all of America's bounty was in it. Readiness to serve, innocence, competence, modesty, sly humor, and then a lopsided yawing slide of a dumb smile at the gulfs of one's own ignorance, like oops am I smalltown dumb!' that was also in it. Aquarius decided it was not easy to trust him then? the smile was a vehicle to remove Armstrong from the scene. But when he spoke, all ambition was muzzled. He spoke with the unendurably slow and triple caution of a responsibilityladen politician who was being desperately careful to make no error of fact, give no needless offense to enemies, and cross no conflicting zones of loyalty among friends. Add the static, and he was no happy public speaker. At communicating he was as tight as a cramped muscle. Perversely, it became his most impressive quality, as if what was best in the man was most removed from the surface, so valuable that it must be protected by a hundred reservations, a thousand cautions, as if finally he had such huge respect for words that they were like tangible omens and portents, zephyrs and beasts of psychic presence, as if finally something deep, delicate and primitive would restrain him from uttering a single word of fear for fear of

OF A FIRE ON THE MOON 31 materializing his dread. So, once, men had been afraid to utter the name of the Lord, or even to write it in such a way as to suggest the sound, for that might be enough to summon some genie of God's displeasure at so disrupting the heavens. Armstrong of course did not brandish an ego one could perceive on meeting where Aldrin gave off the stolid confidence of the man who knows that problems can be solved if properly formulated and appropriately attacked (which is to say attacked in good condition!) and where Collins offered the wiry graceful tension of a man who will quietly die to maintain his style, Armstrong could seem more like a modest animal than a man? trace hints of every forest apprehension from the puma to the deer to the miseries of the hyena seemed to stalk at the edge of that smalltown clearing he had cut into his psyche so that he might offer the world a person. But his thoughts seemed to be looking for a way to drift clear of any room like this where he was trapped with psycheeaters, psychegorgers, and the duty of responding to questions heard some hundreds of times. On the other hand, he was a professional and had learned how to contend in a practical way with the necessary language. Indeed, how his choice of language protected him! 'Mr. Armstrong, at the time you are down on the moon, what will be your overriding consideration and what will be your main concern'? 'Well,' said Armstrong, 'immediately upon touchdown our concern is the integrity of the Lunar Module itself? . . . nnnnnnnhr went the sound of the static. . . . 'For the first two hours after touchdown we have a very busy time verifying the integrity of the Lunar Module and all of its systems? . . . nnnnhr. . . . 'A great deal of technical discussion . . . between spacecraft and ground during a time period when most people will be wondering, well what does it look like out there? . . . We will be eager to comment? . . . nnnnhr . . . 'but reluctant to do so in the face of these more important considerations on which . . . the entire rest of the lunar mission depends.' Aldrin, the formalist, had said just previously, 'I think the most

32 NORMAN MAILER critical portion of the EVA will be our ability to anticipate and to interpret things that appear not to be as we expected them to be, because if we don't interpret them correctly then they will become difficult.' It was the credo of the rationalist. Phenomena are only possessed of menace when they do not accommodate themselves to languagecontrols. Or, better, to initialcontrols. EVA stood for Extravehicular Activity, that is for action taken outside their vehicle, the Lem. EVA therefore referred to their walk on the moon but the sound of the letters E, V, A might inspire less perturbation than the frank admission that men would now dare to walk on an ancient and alien terrain where no life breathed and beneath the ground no bodies were dead. It was, of course, a style of language all the astronauts had learned. There were speeches where you could not tell who was putting the words together? the phrases were impersonal, interlocking. One man could have finished a sentence for another. 'Our order of priorities was carefully integrated into the flight plan . . . there is no requirement on the specific objectives that we're meeting on the surface to go great distances from the spacecraft, and to do so would only utilize time that we now have programmed doing things in the specific mission objectives.' Sell newspapers with that kind of stuff! The quote could belong to any one of a dozen astronauts. In this case it happened to be not Aldrin but Armstrong. Only on occasion did the language reveal its inability to blanket all situations. Mainly on personal matters. There came a question from one of the remedial readers. 'Tell us very briefly how your families have reacted to the fact that you're taking this historic mission.' 'Well,' Aldrin deliberated, 'I think in my particular case, my family has had five years now to become accustomed to this eventuality, and over six months to face it very closely. I think they look on this as a tremendous challenge for me. They look upon it also as an invasion somewhat of their privacy and removing of my presence away from the family for a considerable period of time.'

OF A FIRE ON THE MOON 33 He spoke glumly, probably thinking at this moment neither of his family nor himself? rather whether his ability to anticipate and interpret had been correctly employed in the cathexisloaded dynamic shift vector area of changed field domestic situations (which translates as: attractive wife and kids playing second fiddle to boss astronaut number two sometimes blow group stack). Aldrin was a man of such powerful potentialities and iron disciplines that the dull weight of appropriately massed jargon was no mean gift to him. He obviously liked it to work. It kept explosives in their package. When his laboriously acquired speech failed to mop up the discharge of a question, he got as glum as a fastidious housewife who cannot keep the shine on her floor. They could not, of course, restrain the questions which looked for ultimate blood. 'James Gunn, BBC. You had mentioned that your flight, like all others, contains very many risks. What, in view of that, will your plans be'? a British courtesy in passing? 'in the extremely unlikely event that the Lunar Module does not come up off the lunar surface'? Armstrong smiled. His detestation of answering questions in public had been given its justification. Journalists would even ask a man to comment on the emotions of his oncoming death. 'Well,' said Armstrong, 'that's an unpleasant thing to think about.' If, as was quite possible, he had been closer to death than anyone in the room, and more than once, more than once, that did not mean the chalice of such findings was there to be fingered by fifty. 'We've chosen not to think about that up to the present time. We don't think that's at all a likely situation. It's simply a possible one.' He had, however, not answered the question. If he put in twelve and more hours a day in simulators, if there were weeks when they worked seventy and eighty hours a week at the abrasive grind of laying in still more hierarchies of numbers and banks of ratio in their heads, well, they were accustomed to hard work. So the grind today of being interviewed in full press conference, then by the wire services, then by magazine writers and finally for the television networks, a fourteenhour day before it would all be done,

34 NORMAN MAILER and of the worst sort of work for them? objects on display to be chipped at by some of the worst wordsculptors ever assembled in southeastern Texas? well, that would still be work they must perform to the best of their duty. Being an astronaut was a mission. Since the political and power transactions of the age on which NASA's future was? put no nice word on it? hung, were not in spirit religious, the astronauts did not emphasize their sense of vocation. But being an astronaut was a mission and therefore you were obliged to perform every aspect of your work as well as you could. At a press conference you answered questions. So Armstrong now finally said in answer to what they would do if the Lunar Module did not come up off the lunar surface, 'At the present time we're left without recourse should that occur.' When the conference was done, there was only a small pattering of applause from the Press. The atmosphere had been equal to any other dull press conference in which a company had unveiled a new and not very special product. Resentment in the Press was subtle but deep. An event of such dimensions and nothing to show for it. The American cool was becoming a narcotic. The horror of the Twentieth Century was the size of each new event, and the paucity of its reverberation. But what if you're unable to get off the moon? 'Unpleasant thing to think about.' II It was the answer Aquarius thought about after the conference was done, for that was the nearest anyone had come to saying that a man could get killed in the pits of this venture. And yes, they did think about it. A man who was in training for six months to go to the moon would be obliged to think about his death. Yet, if to contemplate the failure of the ascent stage of the Lunar Module to'rise off the moon was unpleasant for Armstrong to think about, did that derive automatically and simply because it would mean death, or was it, bottomless taint of the unpleasant, a derivation deep out of the incommensurable fact that the moon ground would be

OF A FIRE ON THE MOON 35 the place where his body must rest in death? People who had nearly died from wounds spoke of the near death as offering a sensation that one was rising out of one's body. So had spoken Hemingway long ago, writing in Paris, writing in Spain, probably writing in apartments off the Borghese Gardens near where Collins had been born. Now was there to be a future science of death, or did death (like smell and sound and time? like the theory of the dream) resist all scientists, navigators, nomenclature and charts and reside in the realm of such unanswerables as whether the cause of cancer was a malfunction of the dream? Did the souls of the dead choose to rise? Was the thought of expiring on the moon an abyss of unpleasantness because the soul must rest in the tombless vacuums of a torso dead on the moon and therefore not able to voyage toward its star? A vertigo of impressions, but Aquarius had been living at the edge of such thoughts for years. It was possible there was nothing more important in a man's life than the hour and the route and the power of his death, yes, certainly if his death were to launch him into another kind of life. And the astronauts? of this he was convinced? would think this way, or at least would have that vein of imagination in some inviolate and noncommunicatory circuit of their brain somewhere, far below the language of their communication, they must suspect that the gamble of a trip to the moon and back again, if carried off in all success, might give thrust for some transpostmortal insertion to the stars. Varoom! Last of all over the years had Aquarius learned how to control the rapid acceleration of his brain. Perhaps as a result, he was almost? in these first few days of covering the astronauts in Houston? fond of the banality of their speech and the anodyne of technologese. But that press conference reserved exclusively for the magazine writers was about to begin? the writers would be working at least half as hard as the astronauts this day? and Aquarius on his way over to the Lunar Receiving Laboratory, where the interview was to be staged (for reasons soon explained) was wondering if the glints and notes of these cosmic, if barely sketched, hypotheses about earth, moon, life, death, the dream and the psychology of

36 NORMAN MAILER astronauts would be offered the ghost of a correlative. Aquarius was contemplating again the little fact that man had not done so very much with Freud's theory of the dream? had the theory of wish fulfillment shown a poor ability 'to anticipate and interpret things that appear to be not as we expected them to be'? Did that old Freudian theory of the dream bear the same relation to the veritable dimensions of the dream that a Fourth of July rocket could present to Saturn'V? III Since the astronauts were being guarded against infection, they were seen next behind the protection of a glass wall in the visitors? room at the Lunar Receiving Laboratory. An entire building had been constructed to quarantine them on their return, a species of hospital dormitory, galley and laboratory for the moon rocks. Since for twentyone days after their return they would not be able to be in the same room with their families, or with the NASA technicians and officials who would debrief them, a chamber like the visitors? room in a prison had been built with a plateglass partition hermetically sealed from floor to ceiling running down the middle. Dialogue through the glass wall proceeded through microphones. Now, for the rest of the day, the astronauts would receive the other media layers here: TV, radio, wire service, magazines, etc. Now the magazine writers could sit within a few feet of their subjects, and yet? as if suggesting some undiscovered metaphysical properties of glass? they were obliged at the same time to feel a considerable distance away. Perhaps the full lighting on the astronauts and the relative gloom on the writers? side of the enclosure may have suggested the separation of stage and audience, but probably the effect was due most to the fact that laying-on of hands through that glass, so certainly shatterproof, could never occur, and so there was a dislocation of the sense of space. The astronauts were near enough to sit for a portrait, but? through the glass? they were as far away as history.

OF A FIRE ON THE MOON 37 There was a new intimacy to the questions however. The setting was of aid, and besides, the magazine writers were in need of more. One of them took up immediately on the question which had bothered Aquarius, but the approach was practical now. How indeed would the astronauts spend their time if they found they could not get off the moon? Would they pray, would they leave messages for their family, or would they send back information on the moon? Such were the alternatives seen by the questioner. Aldrin had the happy look of a linebacker who is standing right in the center of a hole in the line as the runner tries to come through. 'I'd probably spend it working on the availability of the ascent engine.' That brought a laugh, and there would be others to follow, but the twenty or so magazine writers had the leisure to ask their questions out of a small group, and so there was not the itch of the newspaperman to look for a quick lead and therefore ask brutal or leading or tendentious questions. Indeed there was no need to ask any question whatever just so that the journalist and his newspaper could be identified as present at the conference. (Such identifications give smaller newspapers and their reporters a cumulative status over the years with public relations men.) No, here the magazine writers could take their time, they could pursue a question, even keep after the astronaut. Covertly, the mood of a hunt was on. Since they would have more time to write their pieces, by severer standards would they be judged. So they had to make the astronauts come to life whether the astronauts wished to exhibit themselves or not. Will you take personal mementos? Armstrong was asked. 'If I had a choice, I guess I'd take more fuel,' he said with a smile for the frustration this might cause the questioner. The magazine writers kept pushing for personal admission, disclosure of emotion, admission of unruly fear? the astronauts looked to give replies as proper and wellinsulated as the plate glass which separated them. So Armstrong replied to a question about his intuition by making a short disclaimer, which concluded, 'In-

38 NORMAN MAILER terpret the problem properly, then attack it.' Logical positivism all the way was what he would purvey. Don't make predictions without properly weighted and adequate inventories of knowledge. Surely he trusted his intuitions, the questioner persisted. 'It has never been a strong suit,' said Armstrong in a mild and honest voice. Obviously, the natural aim of technology was to make intuition obsolescent, and Armstrong was a shining knight of technology. But, in fact, he had to be lying. A man who had never had strong intuitions would never have known enough about the sensation to disclaim its presence in himself. Would he at least recognize that his endeavor was equal in magnitude to Columbus? adventure? He disclaimed large reactions, large ideas. 'Our concern has been directed mainly to doing the job.' He virtually said, 'If not me, another.' If they would insist on making him a hero, he would be a hero on terms he alone would make clear. There had been only one Columbus? there were ten astronauts at least who could do the job, and hundreds of men to back them up. He was the representative of a collective will. Sitting in his drab graygreen suit, a suit as close to no color as possible, his shirt pale blue, his tie nondescript dark grayblue, a bluegreen wall behind him (perhaps to hint at empyreans of sky), his neck seemed subtly separated from his collar, as if? no matter how neatly he was dressed? his clothes felt like a tent to him, like a canvas drop out of which his head protruded through the hole of his collar. They were popping baseballs at him, he was dodging. 'Will you keep a piece of the moon for yourself'? asked a questioner. It was a beautiful question. If he admitted desire, one could ask if the Armstrong house would sleep on nights of full moon when the piece of rock bayed silently to its distant mistress, and emanations wandered down the stairs. But Armstrong said stiffly, 'At this time, no plans have been made? . . . (Would he ever have the desire to steal a rock, Aquarius asked silently.) 'No,' Armstrong went on, 'that's not a prerogative we have available to us.'

OF A FIRE ON THE MOON 39 He could of course have said, 'We can't do it,' but in trouble he always talked computerese. The use of 'we? was discouraged. 'A joint exercise has demonstrated? became the substitution. 'Other choices? became 'peripheral secondary objectives.' 'Doing our best? was 'obtaining maximum advantage possible.' 'Confidence? became 'very high confidence level.' 'Ability to move? was a 'mobility study.' 'Turn off? was 'disable? 'turn on? became 'enable.' It was as if the more natural forms of English had not been built for the computer: Latin maybe, but not simple AngloSaxon. That was too primitive a language? only the general sense could be conveyed by the words: the precise intent was obliged to be defined by the tone of the voice. Computerese preferred to phase out such options. The message had to be locked into a form which could be transmitted by pulse or by lack of pulse, one binary digit at a time, one bit, one bug to be installed in each box. You could not break through computerese. Through it all, Collins would smile, turn his sensitive presence as eyes to the questioners, ears to the answer. His smile would flicker at the plastic obsidian impenetrability of computerese. 'Darn it all,' his smile would seem to say to the magazine writers, 'if I had to learn how to translate this stuff, I'm sure you fellows can do as well!' Once again, Collins was being asked few questions. They turned after a while to Aldrin and began to draw some flecks of a trueblooded response. He was, of course, equally impenetrable in the beginning, but after a time he may have made the mistake of essaying a joke. Asked of his reactions to visiting the moon, he proceeded to build a wall of verbal brick, then abruptly with that clumsy odd sobriety, almost engaging, with which he was forever showing his willingness to serve, Aldrin made a remark about having been a boy scout. 'I attained the rank of tenderfoot,' he said. He gave a discomfited smile. 'I hope I don't have a tender foot after walking around the moon.' It was so bad a joke that one had to assume it was full of interior reference for him,

40 NORMAN MAILER perhaps some natural male anxiety at the thought of evil moon rays passing into one's private parts. A glum expression sat next to gloom? the damnedest things can happen to a good man. Then they queried Aldrin on personal mementos. Would he be taking any along? Well, yes, he admitted reluctantly, he would be taking a little family jewelry along. He stopped, he looked mulish. It was obvious he didn't want to go on. The primitive value of the objects, their power, their retention of charms, their position in the possible hierarchy of the amulets would be vitiated by describing them.' On the other hand, a high quotient of availabilityformiscellaneousunprogrammedsituations (known in the old days as charity, spontaneity, or generosity of spirit) also ranked high in good astronaut qualifications. So Aldrin gave answers even if he didn't want to. Well, he admitted, the family jewelry were . . . rings. He had two heavy gold rings on two fingers. Yes, he nodded distrustfully, looking for a moment like a chow forced to obey a command he cannot enjoy, yes, on the flight, he would probably still be wearing them. What else in the way of family jewelry? But now Aldrin had had enough. 'Personal category,' he grunted. A Viennese or German correspondent asked in a heavy accent of Armstrong, 'Have you had any derreams'? Dreams. Armstrong smiled. He couldn't say he did. The smile was as quick to protect him as the quick tail flick of a longsuffering cow standing among horseflies in a summer meadow's heat, yes, smileandflick went Armstrong, 'I guess after twenty hours in a simulator, I guess I sometimes have dreams of computers.' Yet as the questions went on, the game was turning. The German might have asked his question about dreams with the happy anticipation that any material provided would offer a feast? the symbols of the dream were pot roast after all and gravied potatoes

OF A FIRE ON THE MOON 41 to the intellectual maw of a nice German head, but the answer, frustrating as nearly all the answers had been, now succeeded in working up a counterpressure. Slowly, unmistakably, the intellectuals and writers on the dark side of the glass were becoming a little weary of the astronauts. Collins? implacable cheerful cool, Aldrin's doughty monk's cloth of squaredom, Armstrong's neartofacetious smile began to pique their respect. The questions began to have a new tone, an edge, the subtlest quivering suggestion that intellectual contempt was finally a weapon not to be ignored. Were these astronauts not much more than brainprogrammed dolts? The contempt was a true pressure. For give an athlete brains, give an aviator brains, give an engineer a small concealed existence as presumptive poet, and whatever is not finished in the work of their ego, whatever is soft in their vanity, will then be exercised by the contempt of an intellectual. The writers were pushing Armstrong now. Why, why ultimately, they were asking, is it so important to go to the moon? Man to man, they were asking, brain to brain, their leverage derived from the additional position of asking as writer to smalltown boy: why is it important? Armstrong tried to be general. He made a speech in fair computerese about the nation's resources, and the fact that NASA's efforts were now tapped into this root. Well, then, asked a dry voice, are we going to the moon only for economic reasons, only to get out of an expensive hole? No, said Armstrong. Do you see any philosophical reason why we might be going? the voice went on, as if to imply: are you aware there is philosophy to existence as well? Armstrong had now been maneuvered to the point where there was no alternative to offer but a credo, or claim that he was spiritually neuter. That would have violated too much in him. Yes, he blurted now, as if, damn them and damn their skills, they had wanted everything else of him this day, they had had everything else of him, including his full cooperation, now damn them good,

42 NORMAN MAILER they could have his philosophy too if they could comprehend it. 'I think we're going,' he said, and paused, static burning in the yaws of his pause, 'I think we're going to the moon because it's in the nature of the human being to face challenges.' He looked a little defiant, as if probably they might not know, some critical number of them might never know what he was talking about, 'It's by the nature of his deep inner soul.' The last three words came out as if they had seared his throat by their extortion. How his privacy had been invaded this day. 'Yes,' he nodded, as if noting what he had had to give up to writers, 'we're required to do these things just as salmon swim upstream.' IV That was a fair haul for a working day? Aquarius now had a catch to fry. Yet the day was hardly over for our astronauts. They still had to have their conversations with the television networks. Since each man would have his own half hour before the camera, that meant there would be three interviews for each man, or nine altogether. With breaks and dinner, their day would continue for another six hours. Aquarius was invited to audit a filming and chose Armstrong's session with NBC. He had an idea Armstrong would be more comfortable in a TV interview and he was not wrong. But then Armstrong had indicated his concern for good television earlier at the full press conference when he had apologized for the program they would send from the moon. 'I don't mean to sound discouraging but I don't have high hopes that the picture that we will be able to send back from the surface will be nearly so good as those you have been looking at from the recent flights from the Command Module. The camera is somewhat different and is somewhat more restricted in the kinds of lenses that we can use, and the kinds of lighting we have available to us. . . . And I suspect that you will be somewhat disappointed at those pictures. I hope that you'll recognize that it's just one of the problems that you face in an environment like the lunar surface and it'll be some time before we

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