Sensing and Believing
As someone who did not have the pleasure of being around for the moon landings first-hand I'm admittedly relying on hearsay, but it seems to me as though the basic importance of the landings lied in the experience itself. Everyone was reading the papers, watching the news, following the story together as the journey went along. Even today I'm betting that most of us can conjure up an image of the Earth from the moon, or of the astronauts walking across its surface. Boots in the dust are another example, and there I feel as though you can even get the visceral feeling of planting feet where no one thought they could ever be. This is how we all "experience" the moon, and I feel as though it is in fact just about the only value we get from all of the trouble.
What struck me most about Omon's own trip, in as much as he had one, was the distance he was forced to keep from the actual moon experience. There was no sound stage even, on which they were going to trick him into believing that he was walking along the surface. The only time he steps off the bicycle his eyes are sealed up, for obvious practical reasons as far as the higher-ups are concerned. No touching, no looking, basically. For me, the image is absolutely tragic. I feel as though Omon would have had a better fate were he to be sent to the actual moon on a death mission, as he had been told. After all, it would have been possible to achieve something, and to have a moment or two of that sensation, of being away from and above the Earth and its problems, which he wanted so badly.
I bring this up because I think it has interesting implications for the novel as a whole. In particular, Colonel Urchagin explains to Omon that the idea behind the project is that the Soviets can take the lead in the space race if just one pure soul believes in the mission (149-150). Could Omon have been that pure soul without a true, tactile encounter with the moon? Even if the gun had not jammed, and the mission had gone off without a hitch, would there have been a gain even in the suspect logic of the higher-ups? I'm not certain that there would have been.