01/07/2012. Contributed by Vinca Russell
pub: Penguin. 688 page paperback. Price: £ 7.69 (UK) if you know where to look. ISBN: 978-0-14104-183-4.
check out websites: www.penguin.com and www.turnaround-uk.com
This phenomenal book tells the story of the Apollo Moon missions, from the disaster that befell Apollo 1 right through to Apollo 17's final Moon landings. If you have any interest at all in how man achieved what is probably its greatest exploration of all time, then this is the book for you.
The narrative is split into three sections. The first takes us through the developments of the Apollo Programme and right up to the Apollo 11 mission when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men to walk on the surface of the Moon. The second section focuses on Apollos 12 to 14 and the third covers the last three Apollo missions. Throughout all three sections, the story carries you through with its engaging and personal style, making you really feel like you are a part of the Apollo Programme.
Any account of the Apollo missions will contain things that are familiar to most people, whether that be the first words spoken by Armstrong as he stepped onto the surface of the Moon or the narrowly averted disaster that threatened the lives of the Apollo 13 astronauts. However, I can almost guarantee that unless you're a real space nut, this book will also surprise and delight you with all the titbits of information you didn't know. I, as an epidemiologist by trade, was fascinated to learn for instance that the first crews who landed on the Moon spent three weeks in quarantine on their return just in case they'd picked up any harmful lunar bacteria.
I would say that this book has three areas of focus. First is the missions themselves which are probably the reason you picked this book up in the first place. Andrew Chaikin takes us through the planning stages of each mission and then on a detailed journey with the astronauts as they head through space and to the Moon. Secondly, there is the science and technology of the Apollo missions. Some of this provides detail on how the manufacturers managed to reduce the weight of lunar modules and what kinds of information the computer could calculate on board the command modules. Other parts of this are devoted to geology, a field which gained a huge amount of information from the rocks that the astronauts brought back from the Moon. It might not be the part of the Moon missions that really piques your interest but Chaikin manages to ensure that each piece of information is presented in a way which will keep you reading and never strays into the dry technical lists that might make you start skipping pages.
The third area of focus is perhaps the reason this book is such an engrossing read. Chaikin interviewed nearly all of the astronauts involved in the Apollo missions, as well as many ground crew, engineers, scientists and mission support workers. Alongside these people, who were clearly crucial to the success of the Apollo missions, Chaikin also took time to speak to the wives and families of the astronauts and the result is a very human and at times very emotional view of the whole journey. It is one thing to be awed with wonder at the description of an earthrise as seen from the Moon, but quite another to realise how hard the astronauts' wives worked to maintain their composure when their husbands were off on the most dangerous missions ever undertaken. These men were pushing boundaries and testing new procedures and new equipment every time they went into space. Left behind, the wives could only hope and pray that each new piece of equipment worked because out in space one tiny problem could kill all those on board.
You've probably guessed that I'm pretty enthusiastic about this book and it's true. I was already in awe of the fact that over forty years ago we sent men to walk on the Moon. If you really stop and think about the level of technology they had back then it is nothing short of miraculous what they managed to achieve. They had a leader with vision and drive who set them a challenge to send men to the Moon and bring them home again safely and thousands of people worked together to meet that challenge, each with the determination that it wouldn't be their piece of work that let the mission down. It's inspirational.
In 'A Man In The Moon', Chaikin tells a really good story and it just happens to be that all of it is true. If you have ever looked up at night and thought about the men who visited the Moon or looked at the stars and wondered what's out there or even if you just want a good book to while away a few hours on the train then try 'A Man On The Moon'. It was a thrilling read from beginning to end and just might encourage you to follow your dreams.
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