On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon, a historic event that I remember watching on television as a boy. Eleven other astronauts would follow in Armstrong’s footsteps until the Apollo program was abandoned at the end of 1972. We have not returned to the moon since.
In the novel The Astronaut’s Son by Tom Seigel (Woodhall Press LLP, September 2018), Israeli astronaut Avi Stein was scheduled to fly on a later Apollo mission but died of a heart attack shortly before liftoff. “His dream of going to the moon lives on in all of us,” his son, Jonathan, says in tribute.
Speaking to an audience of his employees and members of the media, Jonathan—a multi-millionaire engineering and computer genius—announces his company’s private lunar venture. “We have been away far too many years,” he says. “From the surface of the Moon, we will take a giant leap forward into outer space for the benefit of ourselves and our posterity.” Jonathan is to be the mission’s commander.
All his life, Jonathan has had a fixation on Armstrong, sending him countless, unanswered mails over the years. A chance encounter with a website claiming that the lunar landing was a hoax launches Jonathan on a quest to uncover the origins of the Apollo program, and more importantly, to learn whether his father actually died of natural causes. Perhaps the reclusive Armstrong has the answers to these questions.
In his investigations, Jonathan is on his own. “There were no footprints to guide him, no guardian angel.” His pregnant wife, Susana, suggests that he abandon what appears to be a foolhardy search for proof of a government coverup. “You can’t change what happened, and you’ll never be able to make perfect sense of the past,” she warns him. “There’s always incompleteness. It’s time to move on, think ahead, think of us.”
Yet, Jonathan is determined to realize his father’s unfinished journey, but will there be a price to pay for learning the truth?
While The Astronaut’s Son, the novel, may not exactly rocket into space, it does make for a fast-paced read with an alternate approach to a very timely subject. Fifty years after the first lunar landing, we may soon witness a renewed commitment to space exploration. If Jonathan’s dream is realized—a dream he shared with his father, the astronaut—one small step for man may indeed lead to a giant leap for mankind.
Tom Seigel worked for eight years as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn. As Deputy Chief and Chief of the Justice Department’s Organized Crime Strike Force, he prosecuted several high-ranking members of the Lucchese, Bonanno, and Colombo families; as well as heroin traffickers; corrupt NYPD detectives; and NBA referee Tim Donaghy. After twenty years as a litigator he earned an MFA in fiction writing. The Astronaut’s Son is his debut novel.