What if Neil Armstrong was not the first human to walk on the moon? What if there had been a secret moon landing that had never been publicized or acknowledged? And all involved who knew the truth had been sworn to secrecy, with some actually taking that truth to the grave? How could this have happened? And, more importantly, why? These are some of the intriguing questions explored in The Cassandra Project, by Jack McDevitt and Mike Resnick.
When a reporter asks Jerry Culpepper, NASA’s Director of Public Affairs, about a story in The National Bedrock (a tabloid paper like The National Enquirer) that says some audio files recently released by NASA indicate that an early Apollo mission may have landed on the moon, he brushes the question aside and attributes it to the astronauts joking around with Mission Control. It must have been a harmless prank. At the time of the Apollo missions, the United States and Russia were locked in a race to see who could first land a man on the moon. If the United States had successfully landed a mission on the moon’s surface six months prior to the known Apollo moon landing, what possible reason could there have been to cover it up? And how could any cover-up have been successful for more than 50 years, with no one ever leaking that secret? To Jerry, none of this makes any sense. As more questions begin to arise about those early Apollo missions, he himself begins to wonder if this could actually be true. But with most of the people who had been involved now in their 80s (or older, or dead), and with the existing data raising more questions than answers, Jerry begins to realize that he may have inadvertently become involved in a cover-up that could not only change how the world views its past, but could also alter its future.
In The Cassandra Project, award-winning authors McDevitt and Resnick create a near future (2019) with many of the same issues and concerns that currently affect us. This gives a believable setting for a compelling story, but it also allows the authors to give insightful commentary on some of the problems/issues that we face right now, and how the decisions we have made and will make may affect our planet. While they concede that none of these problems/questions have easy answers, what is clear is that we must face them decisively--and soon.
By setting their novel within the inner-workings of NASA, the authors also critique how our country has abandoned, step by step, our primacy in the space race. It is evident that both of the authors mourn the original as well as the continuing choices to cut funding for NASA and the U.S. space program, with the consequent development of corporate interests to fill the void. While it now seems clear that future space explorations lie with corporate--not government--entities, our culture’s attachment to and nostalgia for NASA make one wish for a different scenario.
The mystery itself, as to whether Neil Armstrong really was the first human on the moon, is top notch! The trail of clues, hidden information, doctored documents, and the search for witnesses, with many already dead, and those living so advanced in age that their recollections are questionable, adds up to a compelling, edge-of-your-seat thriller that becomes more enthralling as it progresses. The authors also put an unexpected spin on several historic figures and events, proving yet again that often our perceptions and judgments of “truth” are heavily dependent upon the available facts and points of view. The ending is both satisfying and thoughtful, giving the reader much to think about.
The Cassandra Project is science fiction at its very best, challenging what we know (or think we know) of our past, cautioning us to think about more than the present as we make decisions that affect our future, and giving us a new perspective to consider regarding our place in the universe.