Friday, August 3, 2012

Lost Moon

Lost Moon: the Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13
© 1994 Jim Lovell, Jeffrey Kluger
368 pages



No one wants to hear ominous noises coming from their car in the middle of a road trip, especially if they're in the middle of nowhere. But it could be worse -- you could break down two hundred thousand miles from Earth, surrounded by the void of space and trapped in a small spacecraft whose every life support system  is failing rapidly.  Such was the case for the Apollo 13 crew: when a loud, ominous bang followed some routine tests, their mission to land in the hills of the Moon became a four-day struggle against the void of space and a dying machine just to stay alive.

Death and disaster had happened before to the astronaut corps: several had died in aircraft crashes, and the Apollo program began in tragedy when flames  consumed the interior of the command module of Apollo I during training, claiming the lives of Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee -- but those accidents took place too quickly for anyone at Mission Control to intervene. Now, for the first time,  the lives of NASA astronauts were imperiled in the course of a mission, and far from home. If NASA couldn't find a way to keep those men alive and bring them home safely,  they would face the prospect of having to talk these men through their final hours.  On the ground in Mission Control, and in the void of space, men called upon all their resources -- their training, their intelligence, their creativity -- to overcome problem after problem, overcoming the odds and achieving a triumphant return four days later. It is the story of those four days that Jim Lovell (commander of Apollo 13) and Jeffrey Kluger tell here.

Although Lovell participated in these events which he's helping to retell, the book isn't written from his perspective, nor is it limited to the four days of the mission itself. The authors begin retelling the story of Apollo 13 fairly quickly -- and it's one that keeps the reader tense, even knowing the outcome -- but they also weave in reminiscences on NASA's and the astronauts' history. These diversions don't just give the reader a break from the tense situation unfolding around the moon and the technical chatter between the craft and mission control: they add context, demonstrating how the catastrophe of Apollo 1 shaped NASA's approach to disasters, or how various events in Lovell's life prepared him for the duties of the space program and the extraordinary challenge of Apollo 13.  Lost Moon almost doubles as a history of NASA from the perspective of an astronaut, and between Lovell and Kluger even explanations of mechanistic failures have an energetic drama about them.

Definitely a book of interest to those interested in humanity's space endeavors.


3 comments:

  1. I remember the drama unfolding on TV. My school set up TV's around the place so we could pop in and catch up on what was happening in our breaks or between lessons. My school was pretty cool like that.... [grin]

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  2. What was the reaction of your instructors to the crisis? I remember on September 11 that classes were essentially suspended all day: in every class we either watched the television coverage or listened to radio news.

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  3. I think it was interest more than anything else and an awareness that it was an historic occasion - and that we should be aware of it. I remember popping into one of the rooms that had a TV set up in and watching the TV coverage for 5-10 minutes before going on to my next class. It was a bit surreal (nothing like that had happened in school before) but I think things went back to normal pretty quickly.

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