In the age of Gravity, of simulated cinematic immersion in space, it is more striking than ever that footage of the greatest technological feat of all time looked no better “than a print of the earliest silent movies … Ghost beckoned to ghosts and the surface of the moon looked like a ski slope at night.” These blurry images anticipate a brave new world of satellite communications, but the era that Mailer foresees, when reporters’ work involves “rewriting publicity handouts”, is close to the situation sketched in Flat Earth News (2009), Nick Davies’s analysis of the parlous state of contemporary journalism. Prophecies can come true in ways and circumstances very different from how they were originally envisaged. And since no one minds whether they turn up exactly as and when predicted, they are immune to the kind of fact-checking that might cast retrospective doubt on Mailer’s extravagancies of style and method. Did the moon adventure really “help to disclose the nature of the Lord and the Lucifer who warred for us”? Is jaundice the “infectious disease beyond all other that comes to strong people when they live too long in an environment alien to their will, work with all their power to solve the complexities of that environment, and fail”? Does the fact that Frank Borman was so afflicted by motion sickness, diarrhoea and vomiting, that Apollo 8 (not 9 as Mailer writes) became, in Andrew Chaikin’s words, “a flying toilet”, mean that he was not “hard as hand-forged nails”?

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