A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts by Andrew Chaikin (1995-05-01) Mass Market Paperback – January 1, 1806
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I’ve seen great documentary and highlight reels of space exploration but hadn’t read any detail to get more behind the curtain. So I set out go find a truly engrossing book that chronicled this impressive journey. “A Man on the Moon” delivered in every detail.
This book follows closely the astronauts of each mission. They are the key theme. The book provides key details into the their character, because the fortitude of what it took to be an astronaut was founded on something truly special. It was different for all of them, but they all shared an unyielding conviction. Their conviction drove them to do great things, brought out the best in each other. My ego always told me I could have been an astronaut and I was jealous of them especially in the early NASA days, but after reading this book I’m not sure I had the “right stuff”
There are “sciency” parts of the book but Chaikin does a great job simplifying technical topics. Like summarizing orbital dynamics and rendezvous.
The book also goes beyond man and machine, and dives into the culture at the time. The challenges faced changing public and political opinion. They had carts blanche for a while, but then what?
My admiration and wonder were amplified by this book. It’s hard not to respect all the missions. Sure we think of Apollo 11 landing on the moon and Apollo 13 with the tremendous story on “how do you get home”, but this books rings out the significance of each mission. Apollo 8 was a very daring mission; first men around the moon. Come to find out the Apollo 9 crew passed on it? How could anyone do that? These men were at their core pilots as well. Those fascinating details are what bolstered respect.
The saddest part was finishing it. It’s sad because we know now after 50 years we haven’t returned, and when you read this it’s heartbreaking to see how they thought their journey was just the beginning. The book did such a good job of engrossing me in that world, it saddened me to come back to reality and recognize the little progress we’ve made. There has been some no doubt. But compared to what was accomplished in a matter of 10 years and on primitive technology by today’s standards, makes the early years of NASA further impressive. I might even be a little jealous.
I absolutely recommend this book, from the fleeting interested person to the most intense space junky out there. It chronicles one greatest chapters in our history and will leave you with a new found respect.
I recommend reading this book and “Failure is Not an Option” because it took way more than astronauts to get to the moon. It’ll help you recognize the human power and unsung heroes pivotal to conquering space.
The book is largely written chronologically, beginning with the tragedy of Apollo 1. Background information on projects Mercury and Gemini aren't required to enjoy this book, and when required, Chaikin does a marvelous job of bringing forward events prior to Apollo to move the book along smoothly. Each manned mission is covered in about as much detail as possible, with the exceptions of maybe Apollo 7 (which never went to the moon, but was a test of the command/service modules in earth orbit), or Apollo 9 (an earth orbit test of the CSM and lunar modules). References are drawn to these two missions where necessary, but they do not receive the in-depth treatment each of the others receives. What stood out to me, which I never knew before reading this book, was the number of mechanical difficulties encountered along the way, and how many times the mission commander would be ready to abort before a solution was reached. Chaikin aptly illustrates the sheer resolve, intelligence, and fast thinking of the crew and ground crews during each mission when things went awry. So the book presents the reader with actual life or death cliffhangers or obstacles to a successful mission, and it makes for excellent reading.
I was also impressed with Chaikin's ability to explain how things in space, in orbit, in a rocket engine, in a volcano, or on the moon (ad infinitum) actually WORK. He doesn't overwhelm the reader with technical jargon (there are other books for that), and he illustrates difficult concepts with archetypes that most readers can relate to. One example comes to mind in how he described Buzz Aldrin's doctoral dissertation on orbital rendezvous techniques, and how this allowed Buzz to discuss "counter-intuitive maneuvers" to the other astronauts. Chaikin is a master of explaining things so anyone can understand.
Another strength of this book is shown in Chaikin's ability to glean the thoughts and feelings of the astronauts and to write those down both accurately and intimately. With each turn of the page, I felt I knew the astronauts like one of their peers. I could feel Frank Borman's intense aversion to take risks the first time circling the moon, Armstrong's technical expertise and grace under pressure in looking for an adequate landing spot, Pete Conrad's virtual "kid in a candy store" excitement en route to the moon, Jim Lovell's dismay when his mission was lost, Al Shepard's tears of joy as he stepped off the LM, Dave Scott's excitement in commanding the first J-mission, John Young's remorse at snapping the ALSEP power cable, Jack Schmitt's struggles to be the first scientist to fly to the moon (and Joe Engle's resentment as a result), and Gene Cernan's prophetic final words as the last moonwalker (for the time being). In a word, Chaikin takes you along for each mission, and you will feel as if you are right there working alongside the astronauts.
This book was much better than I ever expected. I found myself racing home from work each day to read it, and despite its massive size (over 500 pages), it felt like a quick, engaging read. Chaikin has done a wonderful service to the history of NASA and the Apollo missions. If I had to choose an authoritative, quintessential text on lunar exploration, this is book is where it all starts, and where it all ends.
Top international reviews
The only minor downside for me is the 9 point font size making the text pages very dense and not so easy to read as it would have been for me at the time of this mission!!
Where the book triumphs, magnificently, is in giving a sense of what it was actually like to be on the moon. You come away feeling as if you'd been there with the astronauts. The author's key technique is to tell you what they were thinking, and how they felt, as they were exploring the surface. This lets you imagine how you'd have felt in the same place.
The book did, however, remind me of one reason why the later Apollo missions failed to hold the public's interest (or mine, at least) - the relentless focus on geology. Unfortunately the book's fidelity to its subject means that its later chapters are affected in much the same way. After the 50th (or was it 100th?) description of a rock being picked up, I was thinking "wasn't there *anything* else they could have done up there?", and never wanting to hear the word "basalt" again.
Nevertheless, this is an excellent book, and well worth reading, whether you're a "rookie" or veteran of space exploration literature.
Truly amazing stories from real heroes who faced the unknown...
An excellent read...and such value...Swift delivery too!
Andrew Chaikin's book is one of the most detailed and readable I have read on the subject giving insights into the preparation as well as each of the missions.
Along with Moondust: In Search of the Men Who Fell to Earth by Andrew Smith and The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe this is one book about the Moon landings that's not going to a car boot sale any time soon.