Think of the turbulent decades in the US that enveloped the 1969 moon landing: the 1950s, with protests at racial segregation; the 1960s, a time of sexual revolution, assassinations and riots; the 1970s, the denouement of the Vietnam war.

Amid this unsettling chronological sweep, the Apollo 11 mission and its historic moon walk has taken on the feel of a single, unifying moment. It is as if, Charles Fishman writes in One Giant Leap, “on a summer day in 1969, three men climbed into a rocket, flew to the moon, pulled on their spacesuits, took one small step, planted the American flag, and then came home”...

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