Americans to the Moon: The Story of Project Apollo by Gene Gurney

8d33d63562ecd5c593752735267434f414f4141Americans to the Moon: The Story of Project Apollo by Gene Gurney

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So…I found Gurney’s Walk in Space: The Story of Project Gemini in an antique shop in February. Thrilling as it was for a guy who was born in 1961 (and actually has a Gemini memory – my father recorded the space walk from the television onto reel-to-reel), I went online to get both the Project Mercury book and this. Filled with exquisite technical details, Gurney’s writing is conversational and accessible to pre-teens and adults.

He opens the book with Apollo 8, the mission I consider to be even greater than Apollo 11’s, because they did so many things for the first time: first manned Saturn V launch, first to leave earth orbit, first to reach the moon, to orbit the moon, first humans to see the far side in person, first to return from the moon. Sure Apollo 9 and 10 demonstrated docking with the LEM and orbiting the moon at low altitude, but each only added one major element, as did Apollo 11. Okay, that one was a wee significant!

Gurney talks about the development of the program, the components, the failures, and … the tragedy of Grissom, White, and Chaffee. The lessons learned from that, as well as those of the missions following Apollo 8…described here in wonderful prose.

Gurney wrote this after Apollo 12 returned, and before the historic miss of Apollo 13. He concludes this book with a nice nod to the Soviet program to that point, listing the different Vostok, Voskhod and Soyuz missions. He wrote with confidence that though the “Soviet Union does not publicize its plans for exploring space”, he thought that they’d be landing on the moon. He also thought (this was 1970) that “{s}ometime in the 1980s, or later, the United States will land astronauts on Mars.”

I wonder how surprised he would have been, when he wrote this, to know that 50 years later we haven’t even gone back to the moon (he dies in 2011). But those were different times, and the excitement that was gone by the time Apollo 17 returned was still fresh. Excellent book for the 50th Anniversary year.

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