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Full Moon by Michael Light

Michael Light. 1999; 244 pp. $50.

Full Moon is a gorgeous book, right up there with the best coffee-table books on space. Indeed, no other book of space images competes with the quality of the photographs here. The book is decidedly and purposely "unbalanced," giving priority to the unparalleled images from and about the moon. This imbalance reflects Michael Light's conviction that the reader (seer?) will be transformed and transported, as he was, on seeing really high-quality images from the Apollo lunar missions.

Light's determination to let the images speak for themselves is impressive. He got special permission from NASA to digitize the master duplicates of the original film; previous publishers had to make do with fourth- and fifth-generation duplicates. There are no captions. The pages are unnumbered. The background is matte black. Not until the back of the book does Light compromise the visual with words?a compact though excellent description by Andy Chaiken of the astronauts' experience of going to, being on, and returning from the moon, and a few words by Light on the why and how of putting the book together.

The book shows great respect for the reader. While the thumbnail index at the back of the book answers most basic questions about each of the images, Full Moon immerses the reader in the visual experience of the lunar astronauts. This is to most photo books as IMAX is to movies on my VCR. ?Russell L. (Rusty) Schweickart, Apollo 9 astronaut

"Asked to explain why the Moon is beautiful, the astronauts struggle to find the right words. The difficulty is understandable. The moonwalkers saw vistas that were literally alien, a quality that was epitomized by the lunar sky. On Earth air molecules scatter sunlight and turn the sky blue. But on the airless Moon there is only the blackness of space. This, said Apollo 15's Dave Scott, creates a visual stimulus unknown on Earth. "Most people can't comprehend a black sky except at night," Scott explained, adding that the moonwalkers "can comprehend a black sky in the daytime. And it's very different from a blue sky. When the surface of the Moon is illuminated, and it's bright, there are shadows, and contrasts, and so on....And above that, it is a black sky?that is a whole new thing for the mind to handle." To Apollo 16's Charlie Duke, the blackness was so deep as to seem tangible. "You feel like you can go over there and it's a black velvet screen...that you can just reach out and touch it," Duke said, "and yet there's nothing there."

"But one fact in particular?the Moon's diminutive size?filled the moonwalkers' senses with an unearthly reality. The Moon's diameter is roughly one-quarter that of the Earth, something Apollo 11's Buzz Aldrin said he could actually determine with his own eyes. Looking out at the plains of the Sea of Tranquility, he remembers, he could see the ground curving gently away from him. The effect was subtle?nothing like standing on the knoll of a hill?but Aldrin said his eyes and intellect combined to tell him, "Gee, it is really obvious that this is a sphere that we're...walking on."


ISBN: 375406344

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