One of the first things that strikes Mailer about the people in the space program is their use of jargon: Their words are usually devoid of personal expressions, and the astronauts feel uncomfortable when asked about their personal reactions. Being part of a team, part of NASA, means to suppress individuality. As Mailer puts it, “Yes, real Americans always spoke in code. They encapsulated themselves into technological clans.” The result, however, is to make the moon shot seem unreal. Surely Mike Collins, the astronaut who would stay in the spacecraft while his colleagues descended in a specially designed vehicle to the moon, must have felt some envy or regret over not going himself. Yet Collins will not allow himself to suggest he might be disappointed. Part of the problem is that the astronauts have to play several roles at once. The complexity of their situation is unprecedented, Mailer supposes, and this accounts for their unwillingness to risk anything like an original or a daring thought. Their press conferences are boring to most of the press, yet Mailer probes for a rather intriguing speculation on the astronauts’ dilemma: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?
Several of the astronauts have been test pilots. They are superb physical...
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