The caffeinated, supercharged voice used by author Catherine Thimmesh — imagine the hippest, most amped-up raconteur at Mission Control — is one of the many pleasures of this new account (Houghton Mifflin, 6/06) of the first moon landing. Thimmesh’s enthusiasm for her subject is palpable, and the sense of excitement she brings is as vital to Team Moon‘s success as the book’s very premise: that hundreds of thousands of people not named “Neil” or “Buzz” were actively, crucially involved in the national effort culminating in Apollo 11.
A taste of both the voice and the premise: “Now would not be the time for the two Bobs to miscalculate, miscount, or lose their superhuman powers of concentration. The could not afford to be wrong.” Who were the two Bobs? They were the guys in Houston monitoring just how little fuel was left in the lunar module during its descent to the surface, and their story is typical of the anecdotes Thimmesh has included — tales of spacesuit seamstresses, radio telescope operators, parachute designers and others who made it possible to get men to the moon, get them home, and let the rest of the world watch while it happened.
Occasionally, the narrative voice and sheer volume of you-are-there detail get in the way of clarity — a segment about rapid-fire software alarms set off during the approach to the moon is especially hard to follow — but the overall effect is powerful and positive. As for those other pleasures mentioned above, the photography is generous and stunning, and the final fifth of the book’s 80 pages are thoughtfully given over to brief bios of the cast of characters, plentiful information about Thimmesh’s sources, recommendations “for further exploration,” and summaries of the other Apollo missions.
And they were missions, and that’s perhaps the most powerful impression that lingers after one reads Team Moon. The idea of a unifying cause, of a valiant, worthwhile effort calling for sacrifices from hundreds of thousands of Americans not serving in the military — and one that will be watched the world over — has never seemed more appealing, nor more absent. If young readers wonder what their generation’s cause will be, or if they’ll have one, and if not, why not? — well, that’s just one more service done by Catherine Thimmesh and this terrific book.