Originally published in the Fall 2017 issue of Modern Age.
Apollo in the Age of Aquarius
by Neil M. Maher
Harvard University Press, 368 pp., $29.95
We Are as Gods: Back to the Land in the 1970s on the Quest for a New America
by Kate Daloz
Public Affairs Books, 384 pp., $26.99
How spiritually bereft, how morally twisted, does a person have to be to boo the moon landing? It was fair enough for liberals to make the Apollo program a rhetorical foil for more welfare spending. Hubert Humphrey did that. So did Ed Koch, then in Congress, who explained, “I cannot justify approving moneys to find out whether or not there is some microbe on Mars when in fact I know there are rats in Harlem apartments.” But at the sacred moment Neil Armstrong stepped onto the Sea of Tranquility, with the aspirations of mankind resting on his shoulders and the dying cries of Gus Grissom and the other casualties of the Apollo program ringing in his ears, what kind of monster would interrupt with a boo?
The audience at the Harlem Cultural Festival, apparently. The crowd of fifty thousand that had gathered in Marcus Garvey Park to hear Stevie Wonder and Gladys Knight jeered when the lunar touchdown was announced. They were not alone. In the fraught ’60s, the space program irritated many radicals, including feminists, environmentalists, and peace campaigners, for reasons that went beyond its extravagant price tag, and involved its deeper, more symbolic meaning. This hostility is the subject of Neil M. Maher’s Apollo in the Age of Aquarius.