Book takes Earth-bound look at Moon landing

They want you to feel what it was like to be on Earth when humans first touched another world.

Written by Tanya Harrison, PhD’16, and Danny Bednar, PhD’19, For all Humankind tells the story of the Apollo 11 Moon landing through the eyes of eight ‘regular’ observers from around the globe.

An estimated 600 million people worldwide watched the Moon landing live – nearly one-fifth of the planet’s population at the time. To reflect that scope, Harrison and Bednar set out to present the moment as an inclusive event in human history.

“To fully capture the representation of humanity in this historic event, we made the decision to change the wording of this book’s title from the original quote ‘for all mankind’ to ‘for all humankind’ so that everyone reading this will know that space is for them,” Harrison wrote in the preface. “Space is for everyone. We all belong to the universe, and together we can all be awed and inspired by what is possible.”

The book was released this week by Mango Publishing.

Harrison first shared her idea with Bednar during a road trip to Toronto from London. Harrison, a planetary scientist, and Bednar, a lecturer in the Faculty of Social Science, became writing partners through a mutual interest in space “and telling people what we think about space,” Bednar explained.

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Describing herself as a “professional Martian”, Harrison has worked on mission operations for cameras aboard the Curiosity and Opportunity rovers, as well as the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. She was also a collaborator on the NASA 2020 rover. Today, she’s in charge of science for a radar instrument aboard a Mars mission currently being investigated with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Since 2012, Bednar has been teaching space exploration at Western. When he isn’t doing that, writing a book, helping to eliminate barriers for low-income students, or advocating for mental health awareness, he can be found at the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). As a CSA research scientist and geographer of space, he uses satellites in the fight against climate change and the robotic exploration of our solar system.

It was Harrison who first posed the question: Did people outside of the United States view this as an American achievement or a human one?

“I approached Danny to collaborate after pitching the book to Mango. As a human geographer, he had experience with crafting questions to elicit detailed responses,” Harrison said.

Bednar continued, “Both of us wanted to tell stories about Apollo that hadn’t been written about before. This meant not only getting outside of North America, but also speaking with people from outside the space community, which at times, can feel somewhat small.”

Finding people old enough to remember the Moon landing who grew up outside the United States and also had access to social media was the first step.

“We reached out on Facebook and Twitter, and from this, people approached their parents, asking if they had any memories to share. In some cases, adult children acted as translators for their parents. In others, they joined their parents on our Skype calls to share in the experience,” Harrison said.

“That was incredibly heartwarming, getting to see these bonding moments between parent and child over something that they had not discussed in detail with each other before. Lots of genuine smiles, laughter, and memories.”

Although the authors’ narrative offers an engaging exposition of the collective human will and technology necessary to reach the Moon, the heart of the book is comprised of eight stories told by a diverse set of characters. These intimate accounts remind readers that the Moon landing was the event around which millions of people orbited.

The first story features Elly Gotz, “a Holocaust survivor who I actually got to know through his visits to Western,” Bednar said.

Before the Second World War, Gotz dreamed of becoming a pilot. However, the upheaval he experienced led to his living in six different countries. Moving to Canada in 1964, Gotz was thrilled to note that the news was filled with stories about NASA and spaceflight.

“The engineer in him wanted to know everything – how NASA built the spacecraft, how they designed the fuel pumps, how they balanced such huge machines … everything.”

After hearing “The Eagle has landed,” Elly began calling his friends and family, his voice was beaming with pride and excitement. Elly made sure to emphasize the amazing nature of the landing, insisting people appreciate the mastery of machines that NASA had just shown.

Gotz never lost his enthusiasm for machines. Years later, he earned his pilot’s license and bought his own plane. At 90, he made his own giant leap out of an airplane, to celebrate both his own birthday and the 150th anniversary of his adopted Canada by performing a skydive.

According to the authors, their book demonstrate the curiosity that brought the planet together. They chose to end the book with a call to action message:

“This new Earth, 50 years on from Apollo, has its own challenges. It may well be that the Moon shot of this generation is to address these.”

Despite the challenges of climate change, inequality and global health, both Bednar and Harrison infused the book with the idea of humanity as a global community.

“We just wanted to celebrate that mentality by providing some inspiring stories that support kids’ interest in trying big things and making the world a better place,” Bednar said.