Teens’ trip to the moon reveals some of NASA’s deepest secrets

Maggie Braun

By A Contributor

“172 Hours on the Moon” earned a spot on the list of 2013 Teen’s Top Ten books to read. It is easy to see why. It is a suspenseful space thriller — a crossover between young adult and general science fiction that keeps the reader guessing.

The year is 2019, and the public has long since lost interest in the travel to the moon. The Apollo program wound down in the 1970s. In part to rekindle interest, NASA holds a worldwide lottery to enable three teenagers to go with astronauts to the moon; the destination is a once secret moon base, Darlah 2.

NASA wants astronauts to test the base and make sure everything is working. Astronauts will also research the possibility of mining rare Earth metals that would give the United States a technological edge.

And NASA wants to garner positive news reports with the lottery to ensure future financial support. NASA emphasizes that this moon trip coincides with the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, the first manned mission to land on the moon.

But the mission is not without risks. When Apollo 15 went to the moon decades ago, astronauts discovered something mysterious, something the public was never told about. That, however, was the last manned mission, though NASA later sent robots to build the Darlah 2 compound. The public doesn’t know that investigating what Apollo 15 astronauts had seen is among the true purposes of the voyage.

The three lottery winners are Mia, a musician from Norway; Midori, who lives a restricted life in Japan; and Antoine, a French youth who was recently dumped by his girlfriend. They’re delighted to escape their lives on Earth and go to the moon.

Mia thinks the publicity will be great for her band and be her ticket to fame. Midori didn’t quite fit in with students at her school, doesn’t like her prospects and thinks she will find happiness in America. Antoine is still pining for the girl who dumped him for someone else.

The teens and their families go to New York for training. But each also receives a strange warning. Midori meets an urban legend in the airport restroom in Tokyo who tells her not to get on the plane to New York. Antoine is vacationing before his trip and sees a plane crash into the English Channel. When he checks for news of the crash, there is none. Mia wanders away from her hotel in New York and meets a homeless man who advises her that nothing good would come of going to the moon. They all decide to go anyway.

The launch is successful and the team lands in the Sea of Tranquility. They don their space suits and enter the Darlah 2 station. But then things start happening. Someone or something is sabotaging the mission.

First, while the group is trying to communicate with Houston, they lose all power. A back-up generator will provide only temporary power. Two astronauts leave the compound to try to repair the main generator, which is underground. When they get to it, they realize its main panel has been destroyed. Worse, they have been locked into the underground tunnel and run out of oxygen. They are the first to die.

The suspense continues, and about the time you think you have the ending figured out, something else happens. This is a truly enjoyable book, not only for young adults, but also for readers of any age.

The author, Johan Harstad, has written a number of short stories and plays and at least one other novel. For “172 Hours on the Moon,” he received the 2008 Brage Award, one of Norway’s most prestigious literary awards.

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