Sunday, September 16, 2012

Moon Shot

Moon Shot: the Inside Story of America's Race to the Moon
© 1995 Alan Shepard, Deke Slayton. Introduction by Neil Armstrong
383 pages

The Apollo program has been in the news as of late given the death of Neil Armstrong, who with Buzz Aldrin was one of the first men to land on the moon, but my own reading in this subject for the past couple of months was prompted by seeing From the Earth to the Sky, which I've since begun to watch again*.  Moon Shot stands apart from the books I've read previously -- Lost Moon, A Man on the Moon by going beyond Apollo. The authors,  Alan Shepard and Deke Slayton, were among the "Mercury Seven", the first Americans chosen to be astronauts, but they were both  medically grounded midway through that first program and spent most of Gemini and Apollo running the astronaut office and flight crew operations. Eventually, they both got their chance to fly, and this is the story of the space program up to 1975, framed by their careers.

 Although the Apollo program would seem to be the star (the book begins with a storied retelling of Apollo 11's landing),  Moon Shot is really "Alan and Deke's book", so the content focuses on Mercury and Gemini, then Apollo 14, and then Deke's triumph when in his early fifties, doctors were finally convinced that the cardiac arrhythmia that grounded him during Mercury was finally resolved and he was able to fly.  In a way,  Moon Shot is the story of the first and last men of Apollo:  Alan Shepard was the first American in space, and Deke Slayton flew the last Apollo module into space, powered by the last Saturn rocket, where he docked with a Soyuz capsule and shook hands with his Russian counterparts, among them Alexei Leonov, the first man to walk in space.  While there are a great many Apollo histories and astronaut memoirs out there, this is the first I've seen that features Apollo-Soyuz, and follows NASA beyond the last moonlanding mission.  Fittingly, as a tale told in part by a man who participated in Apollo-Soyuz, there are brief sections which give the Russian cosmonauts their own chance to speak, perhaps motivated by the way the sight of Earth from space reduces men to tears and makes them realize how fragile life is, and how stupidly trivial our perceived differences are. By Moon Shot's end,  American and Russian spacewalkers are comrades and fellow explorers -- friends, not foes.  The writing is strong and lively, and given the privileged perspective of the authors -- as  two of the first astronauts, and then the chiefs of the program --  Moon Shot is a very worthy contribution to Apollo literature. It doesn't rival A Man on the Moon for treatment of Apollo itself, but has more extensive background and sees the space race end properly in brotherhood.

* Twelve episodes which are gobsmackingly amazing. Wonderful music, outstanding visuals and acting -- what an accomplishment.

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