Apollo Pilot

The Memoir of Astronaut Donn Eisele

apollo pilot

Apollo 7 was the first time I became aware of the American space program. I was 10 years old, and if I recall correctly, my primary school class at the time had a student teacher from Canada, and he made it a topic of interest.

I don’t recall ever knowing about previous NASA space ventures.

Apollo 7  was the first manned mission after the fire that killed the Apollo 1 crew. Another tragic mishap would likely have put an end to American ambitions to reach the moon, or at least set them back sufficiently to let the USSR get there first.

Apollo Pilot tells the inside story of the Apollo 7 mission from the perspective of one of the crew. Donn Eisele’s account is candid, judgemental of his peers and their employers, and at times brutally graphic – like when he describes having to listen to recordings of his deceased colleagues’ death screams when investigating the Apollo 1 fire. As well as his description of having to inspect the burnt out capsule.

Apollo VII

Mission patch

Eisele briefly describes the journey that led to his acceptance as an astronaut. He also details the rigorous selection regime of interviews and health checks that helped to weed out those not physically or temperamentally suitable.

Some of the most interesting and evocative parts of the book are the details he gives of the Apollo 7 mission, from launch through to splashdown; and how it was for three men to live in such close proximity in very restrictive conditions.

There is the sense of wonder at seeing things so few had seen to that point, and the challenges faced in the tasks they needed to carry out in an extended stay in space. An important aspect of the mission was to replicate the time required for future missions to travel to the moon and back, as well as simulating some of the maneuvers those missions may need to carry out.

It’s only a short book, around 180 something pages, but Eisele seems to fit in a lot of experience within those pages. Sadly he died quite young, and maybe if he’d had the time he would have written more. However the last two chapters, one written by his wife Susan Eisele Black , help to fill in a little of what he missed.

The astronaut lifestyle became one of parties and womanising, conducted in private rooms to avoid attention from the press; while their wives were back home in Houston caring for families. While some saw their extra-marital activities as casual affairs, some maintained long-term relationships.

While he doesn’t name those involved, his (2nd) wife’s chapter of the book makes it clear that he was one of the latter kind. His first marriage ended soon after the Apollo 7 mission. He was the first astronaut to divorce, and he married Susan, the woman he’d been seeing during his frequent trips away from home. The divorce seemed to put an and to his career as an astronaut, even though many others later followed the same path without the same kind of recriminations.

 

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Fleeing ISIS, Finding Jesus (2)

Onesimus Files

fleeing finding.jpgIn my previous post about this book I mentioned my initial disappointment when it didn’t seem to fulfill my expectations regarding testimonies of Muslims coming to faith in Jesus.

Then I recognised that “finding Jesus” wasn’t only applicable to new converts fleeing their old religious affiliation, but it also applied to professing followers of Jesus who would find a deeper relationship with Him when they faced unimaginable adversity.

My initial expectation was eventually fulfilled, but the hoped for evidence of Muslims finding the truth of Christ was often closely related to existing believers finding that deeper faith, as the security of their past was stripped away.

“For me as a believer, life is even better now than it was before ISIS. There are new opportunities and open doors to speak out loud about Jesus, to talk about Islam. A lot of Muslims are questioning who is God, and you only need to look…

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Fleeing ISIS, Finding Jesus

fleeing finding.jpgThis book wasn’t exactly what I expected.
I thought it would be about Muslims who fled from ISIS controlled areas, and in the process of fleeing to safety, found faith in Jesus.

That in escaping extremist Islam, their experiences not only made them question their own Islamic faith, but through that experience they came to know the love of God through Christ.

At first I thought the title was misleading because it didn’t fulfil that expectation. However, about halfway through I recognised the title had a different kind of application. That recognition came when reading the story of a man, an Iraqi Christian from a Christian community. He tells of experiencing a change:

“…it was as if someone took away all my sadness and gave me another light shining on me. I started a new relationship with Jesus, and I felt like a new man, a new person. I found my hope in Christ. I began to see that in some ways I lost everything when ISIS came to Qaraqosh, but really I found Jesus.”

A related, significant reality I found expressed in this book, is the gaping disconnect between the lives Christians in the west, and those of believers elsewhere.

The man mentioned above didn’t have anything like the prosperity that the west takes for granted, but when he lost what he had, he found something much more valuable; something he thought he already had –  and then with the loss of everything else he recognised a sufficiency and wealth only available through closeness to Christ that he’d not experienced before.

There is a vital lesson to be learned by Christians in the west. A lesson that will challenge the seeming obsession with maintaining and protecting a perceived quality of life that is often attributed to God’s blessing. The price of protecting those “blessings” is often a denial of help to people in need, a failure to share those “blessings”.

The author writes of the generosity of the nation of Jordan, who welcomed so many refugees from neighbouring Syria and Iraq, that refugees now made up one in four of the population.

“If that were the United States, it would be like half of Mexico and all of Canada moving in”

Is it necessary to say anything else to address the difference in attitude displayed by western nations with an alleged strong Christian foundation?

The author continues, describing the hardships that have been created,

“…the influx of people looking for cheap accommodations had caused both rents and the prices of staple goods to rise sharply, making life even harder for Jordan’s population. And yet still they open their doors and invite refugees in.”

On questioning a local about the inconvenience of this, he received the reply “What else can we do? Wouldn’t you do the same?”

Sadly most in the west clearly wouldn’t. And neither would many western “Christians”.

I wonder what it will take for THEM to find Jesus.

 

 

Australian Heist by James Phelps

Australian heistAustralian Heist is partially “local” history.

In 1862 a gang of bushrangers held up the gold escort travelling from the gold fields of Forbes to the town of Orange, stealing a large amount of gold and banknotes; the largest single robbery in Australian history.

The gang hid among the Eugowra rocks, after partially blocking the nearby road with an overturned bullock dray. As the poorly guarded gold escort diverted closer to the rocks to avoid the obstacle, the bushrangers opened fire on the coach, wounding two of the police guards, before escaping with its gold and money.

They were led by Frank Gardiner.  His accomplices are assumed to have included Ben Hall, John Gilbert and John O’Meally. Gardiner “retired” from his life of crime after the robbery, but was soon replaced, and perhaps surpassed, in Australian bushranger mythology by those three, whose criminal exploits extended over a wide territory including the towns of Forbes, Bathurst, Carcoar, Lambing Flats (now Young) Murrumburrah, and Jugiong.

After covering the robbery itself and the ensuing trial of the few gang members who were apprehended,  Phelps continues with a highly abridged account of the survivors, including the Hall/Gilbert gang and its changing membership. The book culminates with the fate of Frank Gardiner and rumours about his share of the stolen treasure.

Hall and Gilbert Graves

Ben Hall’s grave at Forbes and  John Gilbert’s grave at Binalong. (photos by Onesimus)

Phelp’s book comes across as a semi-fictionalised account of a true story. He draws on historical documents about the event , in particular accounts of trials that followed the robbery, but clearly uses his imagination to recreate interaction between the participants during parts of the story where there would be no record of their conversations or their specific actions. He acknowledges this in the Author’s note preceding the story, by saying:

I have also used and recreated historically accurate dialogue based on court transcripts and police reports where available. Some details and scenes have, however, been re-imagined, with  a deliberately modern spin.

While that approach is probably intended to make the story more compelling, it raises questions about what is truth and what has been assumed. That question regularly came to mind as I was reading.  The “deliberately modern spin” didn’t work for me, at times created a jarring anachronistic effect.

One day I hope to read a more authoritative, historical account of the Eugowra robbery that will hopefully help me to distinguish the line between history and Phelps’ embellishments. 

Some time ago I read Game, a fictional look at the latter part of Ben Hall’s life. That was also based on historical accounts, but made no claim to be a historical record. However, I found Game had a more convincing authenticity of the period it depicted

I have a slight personal connection to this story. It was during a short trip around the territory of these bushrangers that the possibility of moving from Sydney started to develop as an option, and eventually Gloria and I moved to an area associated with this story.

The following songs portray some of the Hall/Gilbert mythology.

I met Jason and Chloe Roweth many years ago when they performed at a folk club near my then Sydney home. The last time I had contact with them they were living in a town near to my current home, in the region once frequented by the Hall/Gilbert gang.

 

Remembering Anita Cobby, by Mark Morri

cobby.jpgThe murder of Anita Cobby shocked 1980s Australia, perhaps more than any other crime.

A young nurse, travelling home from her shift at a Sydney hospital didn’t make it home. She had caught the train from the city to Blacktown and then started walking from the station to her parent’s place.
Her body was found a few days later, naked and severely injured. Her throat had been brutally cut, almost decapitating her.

someone-else-s-daughter.jpgI came across this book when I was looking for a copy of Someone Else’s Daughter, an earlier account of the case. Gloria had read a borrowed copy of that book not long after Cobby’s murder.

Gloria was also a nurse who relied on public transport to and from work, having to walk to the bus stop each night to catch a bus to the hospital. Her interest in Cobby’s fate was understandable.

Remembering Anita Cobby looks beyond the case itself, for the first time giving John Cobby’s story. As Anita’s husband, John was the initial prime suspect – even if only for a short time. He has never recovered from his wife’s murder and the subsequent treatment he experienced.

Anita had been dragged from the street into a car while walking home from the train station. In the car she was  sexually abused and brutalised by its five occupants. They took her to a paddock, dragging her through a barbed wire fence, to a place where they raped her, and after realising she’d be able to identify them, murdered her.

Mark Morri developed a friendship with John Cobby starting when he spent three days interviewing him the year after Anita’s murder. Years later Mark and John agreed to this book being written as a tribute to Anita, telling John’s side of the story.

He had been incapable of telling it all those years ago but now he was as ready as he’d ever be. It would never be an easy process for someone who, thirty years later, was still dealing with the trauma he’d gone through.

The story of Anita Cobby’s murder was big news for several years, but throughout the telling of that story, there was rarely any reference to her husband John. Crippled by grief, he avoided everything related to the case as much as he could, trying to escape through drugs, by fleeing overseas, and even committing himself to a psychiatric facility. To avoid attention, he changed his name to John Francis.

After a while he remarried and had a family, but could never be freed from the memories, feelings of guilt and the nightmares associated with Anita, so the marriage eventually failed. His children were in their teens before they learned of their father’s relationship to Anita. That knowledge helped them understand things about John that they’d been seeing throughout their lives.

This is a “sneak peak” of a TV show I saw on the weekend. I’ll try to post the full version later in the week. Like the book it tells the Anita Cobby story without omitting the effect her murder had on her husband.

Remembering Anita details John struggles through grief and addiction and how he was eventually able to reclaim the name Cobby.

I mentioned above that Gloria had worked as a nurse, and therefore felt some affinity with Anita. John was also a nurse and had met Anita when they were working at the same Sydney hospital.

John continued nursing, and through this book I found out that at one time he worked (possibly as relieving agency staff) within the same ward of the same hospital on the same shift that Gloria usually worked at the time. Whether their paths ever crossed we don’t know.

White Nights, Ann Cleeves

White NightsShetland is an excellent TV series; one of my favourites. My interest in crime fiction was strongly influenced by it.

While watching the first series I was drawn to the  novels by Ann Cleeves upon which the series was based.

The TV version features Jimmy Perez, a detective whose life is complicated by a late-teen stepdaughter, Cassie.
One of the additional pleasures of Cleeves’ books is that they depict Perez when he first meets Cassie’s mother, Fran an artist, and Cassie is still a young girl. The two formats therefore cover a wider time period and because I saw the TV version first, the books seem to provide a backstory to the series.

White Nights starts with Perez’s first real date with Fran, at an exhibition of her art. That night out then leads to the discovery of a murder victim in shed near to the gallery.

This all happens mid-summer, within a period known in Shetland as the “simmer dim”, when the sun never really sets, resulting in a lingering half-light instead of a normal night darkness.

The thing I like most about this book is the depth of character, its vivid portrayal of landscape, and the journey it gives into Shetland life.

In my opinion, the richness throughout the book almost makes the concluding solution of the crime irrelevant. It’s not a book that puts all of its eggs into the “who-dunnit-basket”.

For me the resolution of a crime novel works best when the guilty party is revealed and the reader can then see how obvious that person’s guilt was – despite having not having seen it throughout the rest of the book. With White Nights, while  I found the conclusion plausible, I seem to have missed clues and reasoning  within the rest of the book, therefore for me it lacked that ultimate, satisfying, “of course, how could I have missed that” reaction.

 

Not From That Man…

murder-at-myall-creekI have a lot of respect for books and the written word. I like my books to be (and remain in) the best shape possible.
When I buy a book I closely check the condition and when possible will avoid copies with creases (no matter how small) or other blemishes.

I had Murder at Myall Creek on a bookstore wish-list for some time – and so was excited to find a second hand copy in very good condition for a fraction of the cost.

But before I read it I chose to tear it up and throw it in the recycling bin.

Doing something like that is very out of character for me; but there was a reason.

I saw the author on TV.
He was the Prosecutor in the Keli Lane case and I was not impressed by some of his tactics in that case. [See my previous post]
I decided I couldn’t trust the man and therefore didn’t want to spend time reading his account about a historical mass murder of Aboriginal people.

I’d like to learn about the Myall Creek Massacre, but not from that man.