Andrew Smith was interviewing Apollo 16 astronaut Charlie Duke when word came through that Pete Conrad, the third man on the moon, had been killed in a motorcycle accident.
Smith set himself the challenge of interviewing the surviving moon-walkers to get their insight into the privileged experience so few men had.
The book is part biography, part road trip and part nostalgia, as Smith records his attempts to meet and speak to a variety of men, some of whom had always been reluctant to speak to the media.
As someone who had grown up with the space race, Smith’s quest is never an exercise of mere reportage. To him (and to me – a man of similar vintage) it is also one of personal reminiscence, but it is much more than a revisiting of the familiar.
It was through this book that I first found out that Apollo 12 had found life on the moon. Part of their mission was the recovery of parts from a Surveyor unmanned space craft that NASA had previously landed on the lunar surface. The recovered part was found to have a surviving colony of micro-organisms on it, possibly deposited by a sneezing earthbound technician preparing Surveyor for its lunar journey.
Smith also suggests that, despite the historical achievement, the rush to beat the Russians to the moon may have been detrimental to the US space program, leading to the development of a throw-away, one-purpose technology at the expense of developing a more sustainable approach to space exploration. The ongoing viability of the later space shuttle program may also have been compromised in a similar way, as will be mentioned later.
On February 1st 2003, space shuttle Columbia disintegrated during re-entry, killing all seven crew members. Rick Husband was the commander of the mission. A book about the investigation into this accident is the subject of an earlier post on this blog.
Evelyn Husband and their children, were waiting for Rick’s return at the Kennedy Space Centre, and it was clear that something was wrong when the clock counting down the time until the shuttle’s return, passed zero and started to count upwards.
She wrote High Calling only months after she lost her husband.
It is the story of Rick’s desire to become an astronaut, the difficulties he faced trying to be accepted into NASA’s space program, and the Christian faith motivating him, no matter what the career outcomes.
Rick Husband seems to have been a well-liked team leader of a very close-knit crew. Their bond strengthened by the extra time together caused by launch date delays. Husband’s STS-107 mission was leap-frogged by several other missions, their launch finally coming after STS-113.
The flight had added significance with the first Israeli astronaut being part of the crew, increasing security concerns prior to launch.
It’s a challenging book on many levels, potentially raising questions about God, faith in Him, and the value of prayer. “Why (or how) could God allow such a thing to happen to a crew headed by a devoted Christian?”
Rick Husband faced life with a favoured bible reference in mind.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
This is one volume of the Outward Odyssey: A People’s History of Spaceflight series. I think there are at least 18 different titles in the series.
Bold They Rise covers the space shuttle program from its beginnings through to the Challenger tragedy.
The authors write about the development of the shuttle and most of the missions within that time period.
The development of the shuttle was hampered by shortsighted political considerations and the ensuing design compromises that were made to ensure funding.
The shuttle’s design was much larger and bulkier than was necessary, mainly to obtain military dollars. Those design compromises were supposedly needed to make assumed military use of the shuttle practicable. However, it also meant a higher per-flight cost on all missions because of added bulk and weight.
Ultimately the shuttle was never used for the type of military flights for which those expensive
The book gives details of most mission personnel and objectives, with nothing too technical to baffle the average reader. The authors relied a lot on archived, recorded reminiscences of astronauts involved in those missions and I particularly enjoyed those memories and anecdotes of the astronauts involved.
Bold They Rise ended with the Challenger tragedy.
At the heart of Too Far From Home is the later loss of the space shuttle Columbia, commanded by Rick Husband whose story is told in High Calling .
This book is about one of the consequences of Columbia’s loss and the inevitable, temporary halt to the shuttle program.
Three men, two Americans and one Russian, had been living on the International Space Station and were intended to be returned to earth by shuttle in March 2003. Donald Pettit, Kenneth Bowersox and Nikolai Budarin were the crew of ISS expedition 6.
The Columbia incident left them stranded, extending their stay indefinitely.
Written with the co-operation of the Astronauts and wives involved, the book not only delves into the experience of life aboard the partly built ISS, when there was no idea of how or when they would come home, but also the effect on families at home.
The solution finally chosen had no guarantee it would work, and when things didn’t go according to expectations, the astronauts’ wives got a taste of what it was like for those waiting for the return of loved-ones on Columbia. Fortunately without the permanence.
Their “escape” from the ISS via a Russian Soyuz spacecraft could have led to a public (and political) loss of appetite for manned, American space travel if there had been another disaster immediately after the shuttle loss.
However, the mostly successful use of the Soyuz had long term benefits that continue into the present, eight years after the ending of the space shuttle program. Since that time all manned travel to and from the ISS has been courtesy of Roscosmos, the Russian space agency.