Moonshot: The Inside Story of Mankind’s Greatest Adventure

MoonshotSuggested by Brad Nelson • A behind-the-curtains view of the journey to moon with interesting technical details and anecdotes.  How did the passionate Buzz Aldrin, inscrutable Michael Collins and enigmatic Neil Armstrong learn to depend on one another as they endured the most intense period of their lives?
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6 Responses to Moonshot: The Inside Story of Mankind’s Greatest Adventure

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I’m 30% into this and can at least pronounce it as very readable so far. It’s a workmanlike account of the space program. It focuses mostly on Apollo, but you get a good bit of Mercury and Gemini history as well.

    The author (as is typical these days) stops and apologizes now and then for the crime of mankind not being perfect. But so far these snotty asides are at a minimum and there is much interesting detail, but not too much. It’s a rather easy and pleasant read done in an easy-going style.

    Did you always wonder how they took a crap in one of those extended space trips? Well, it’s not pretty. But you also find out a lot about the personalities of Aldrin, Armstrong, and Collins. And this isn’t a kiss-and-tell book that is dishing the dirt. It’s a respectful account of these great men. And I had no idea that Aldrin was known as “Mr. Rendezvous” because of his expertise (really, he was the best in the world at one time) at understanding and executing rendezvous in space.

    Somewhat by hook and by crook, these three men ended up in NASA and together in Apollo XI, arguably mankind’s most thrilling mission of exploration. Armstrong was probably a lock because of the way he coolly handled a potentially deadly situation in one of the Gemini missions. Aldrin (I’m guessing) was there because he was, for all intents and purposes, like a back-up guidance computer – and a hell of a space-walker if the need arose. And Collins was just the model of competence.

    As you know, this year is the 45th anniversary or the Apollo XI mission. And this (at least so far) would be an excellent book to read to rekindle your enthusiasm for that time. Or, really, to kindle an enthusiasm about things you might never have known about.

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    Sounds interesting. I already have Tom Wolfe’s account, The Right Stuff, and I fondly remember the NASA presentations Dr. Bill Breuer used to do for local SF conventions. (In fact, it would be very nice to see him do such an account. He already has some literary ambitions, having planned — though never completed — an account of the life of Joan of Arc that sounded very promising.)

    Incidentally, what’s involved in getting books listed here> I’ve certainly mentioned a large number of books that I can recommend, but after a certain point you stopped listing them here.

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I finished this book this weekend and was very much pleased with it. It gave me many insight into the Apollo missions and the space program. The general tone of this British author was not generally deconstructionist, although he did, of course, have to make a point to tell us that the idealized astronauts presented to us in Life Magazine was just an image.

    We’ve all heard the term “space race,” but from reading this book, I got a fair understanding of just how much of a race it was. The Americans and Russians were battling hard for outer space “firsts,” with the Russians gaining a few of the significant early gains. In the generally namby-pamby atmosphere of today’s NASA, there’s no way they would be taking such risks as they did back then. NASA was pushing the very edge of the envelope. It was astounding to see just how few steps there were between sending the Apollo command/service module into space and the culmination of Apollo 11.

    And who can say what would have happened with a different crew? All of these astronauts were highly trained and were the best of the best. But Neil Armstrong did an exceptional job piloting the lunar module. There’s a pretty interesting account of the cacophony of alarm buzzers of other complications that made the descent stage so challenging. It’s reasonable to suppose that three out of four pilots would have aborted and it would have been a reasonable thing to do.

    If you’ve ever tried to play the video game, Gravitar , you might have some bare idea of just how difficult it is to fly a zero-gee spacecraft (although the fellow in this video makes it look easy). Neil had to contend with the fact that there were over a billion people listening, that a lot of money and prestige was as stake, that two lives were at stake, that computer alarms were going off as he descended, that the automatic guidance was overshooting the target area by three miles, and that where he was headed was extremely rocky.

    Plus, there are little unseen things such as the fact that as Neil neared touchdown, the rocket kicked up so much dust, neither him nor Buzz could immediately see if there was any sideways motion remaining to the Eagle. You can’t touch down if that is the case. But Buzz, staring hard through the clouds of dust, finally spotted what appeared to be small rocks and such which indeed seemed to be stationary on the ground. He reported this to Neil and Neil did indeed touch down — with very little fuel remaining (later estimate say he had about 25 second left…a little more than they thought at the time).

    I’m guessing you could have played this scenario out in a simulator and maybe half the time they crash. It’s hard to say. But indeed, as Mission Control stated, “you got a bunch of guys about to turn blue, we’re breathing again.”

  4. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    The one funny moment in this book was when the author was describing the mega-million-dollar palatial Lunar Receiving Laboratory which was built specifically to quarantine the astronauts and the materials that were brought back from the moon. It was also a hi-tech research laboratory for studying the materials. Apparently no expense was spared and it was a major undertaking, nothing like it before ever having been built.

    Although we may look back with humor at the idea that there might have been “bugs” on the moon that could have been brought back to earth, certainly we can understand “better safe than sorry.” There were elaborate methods undertaken to make sure no “bug” could escape. From the moment that the Apollo astronauts splashed down, they were given some kind of rubberized “bio” suit that the had to slip into. And when taken aboard the recovery ship, the Hornet, they were immediately put into a mobile quarantine facility. This same mobile facility (along with the capsule itself) we then taken to the main Lunar Receiving Laboratory at the Johnson Space Center in Houston (a photo of a simulation of this transfer can be seen here if you scroll down a bit).

    Occasionally, the author writes, Neil, Buzz, and Michael would get a new visitor in this quarantine center when some researcher was accidentally exposed to the moon samples. The humorous part of all this is that the author tells of the astronauts noticing a plethora of ants in and about this supposedly hermetically sealed state-of-the-art, no-expense-spared, quarantine facility. It was not quite up to the standards shown in “The Andromeda Strain.” As far as I know, they had much better success with the quarantine of the actual rock samples which could best be studied free from any contamination (and not necessarily for the safety of anyone).

    Beginning with Apollo 15, the quarantine requirement for astronauts was dropped and the entire Lunar Receiving Laboratory was dedicated to the storage, distribution, and study of the moon samples. It’s also interesting to note that the scientific rationale for the moon shot was a somewhat late add-on for the missions, particularly that of Apollo 11.

    In 1979, according to Wiki, lunar samples (most of the 842 lbs. that were brought back from the moon by the various missions) were transferred to the Lunar Sample Laboratory at Johnson Space Center in Houston.

    AstroBiology Magazine has an article about “Keeping Mars Contained” about the details of a proposed modern LRL to handle materials from Mars. Hint: there could be lots of robots involved.

    Now, if someone could only find a way to quarantine the Cultural Marxism and political correctness that infects our culture. I’m sure a Nobel (or some other prize) is waiting.

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