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NASA's Apollo program was transformational technologically, scientifically and politically, and it reverberates today in how the country sees itself and its accomplishments.
The slim volume "Apollo's Legacy" (Smithsonian Books, 2019) by space historian Roger Launius, out today, is written for scholars, but it's accessible to anybody interested in looking at this foundational moment in U.S. history from a multitude of perspectives.
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Space.com caught up with Launius to discuss the book, the state of space exploration 50 years after the historic missions and what Apollo can teach us about the modern-day space program and our return to the moon.
Space.com: Did you know immediately what viewpoints you wanted to use to tackle Apollo, or did it take some narrowing down?
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Roger Launius: Yeah, it took some time. You sort of work through these various things. I wanted to say something about the science that resulted. I wanted to say something about the technology that was developed. I wanted to say something about the political situation that drove this. I also wanted to talk about how people reacted to it both at the time and since.
I make the point in the book that there are four approaches people take, or narratives, if you want to call them that, or interpretations of that time. The first, and the dominant one, is the celebration of America as a great success story and Apollo as [a part of that] — it plays beautifully into that idea of what we want to think about ourselves.
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We want to believe that we can rise to the occasion, and Apollo's a great object lesson for that. ... All the stories that people write about this, this summer [for Apollo 11's 50th anniversary], they're going to emphasize that. And that's good. At some level, all of that's true.
But there's counterthemes as well. One...
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