December 21st will mark the 50th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 8, the first time humans left earth orbit to reach another celestial object. While the landing on the surface of the Moon by Apollo 11 dominates the public’s view of America’s lunar program, it was the orbiting of the Moon by the terrifically dangerous and milestone-making Apollo 8 mission that actually marked the triumph of the USA in the 1960’s “Space Race” with the Soviet Union.
I recently listened to Bob Zimmerman’s book, Genesis: The Story of Apollo 8: The First Manned Mission to Another World. An audiobook version was released this year with a excellent reading by Grover Gardner. Bob nicely weaves a narrative of the Apollo 8 mission, from its conception to capsule splashdown, with captivating portraits of the three astronauts and vivid descriptions of the political and social upheavals of the time, especially the many dreadful events of the tumultuous year of 1968. (The book should disabuse young people of the notion that political polarization in the US today is something new or reaches the levels of other angry periods in the country’s history.)
We are blessed to still have them. Once again during the dinner presentation they talked of their mission, kidding each other repeatedly about what had happened, and talking about why they went and what they thought the future might hold. Borman was pessimistic about the future of space, but then he remains fixated on the concept of a government program for space. Anders meanwhile was in touch with the rise of private commercial space, and advocated that it is where the future lies.
Lovell was Lovell, as always a space cadet, enthused for the future exploration of space, no matter how we do it.
This event is likely only the beginning. Over the next year there are going to many similar events, celebrating the fiftieth anniversary the 1960s Apollo triumph, right through to the landing in July. To me, however, it will always be Apollo 8 that had the most historical impact. Everything that happened afterward merely reinforced what that flight taught us.
BTW: I had thought that George Mueller, head of the Office of Manned Space Flight during the Apollo era, played the key role in the decision to go to the Moon with Apollo 8. Mueller did successfully push the “all-up testing” approach in which the entire Saturn V would be tested altogether rather than incrementally, starting with dummy upper stages. This greatly reduced the number of test flights needed before the lunar missions could begin and was crucial in achieving JFK’s goal of reaching the Moon “before this decade is out“. However, as made clear in the book, it was in fact George Low, chief of the Apollo Spacecraft Program Office (ASPO), who proposed and championed the radical idea of going all the way to the Moon on just the third flight of the Saturn V, the first flight with a command module, and the first flight with a crew. For more about Low and his role in Apollo 8, see The Man Who Won the Moon Race – Air & Space Magazine.
Today NASA has little of its 1960’s daring and risk-taking culture demonstrated by Apollo 8. The agency, for example, indicated recently after another Russian Soyuz failure, that it would rather let the 100 billion dollar International Space Station fall into the atmosphere for destruction rather than permit astronauts to travel to the station in new American vehicles whose builders have not yet checked every last box in the mountains of certification requirements created by the agency’s vast multi-center bureaucracy.
If you are looking for some fun space reads during the holiday season, check out Jackie Kingon’s “science fiction comic mysteries”. She sent me the following excerpts of reviews for Chocolate Chocolate Moons:
“Kingon’s prose is often as snappy as her settings…delightful”
“This book is provoking allegory with satirical elements that mock the weight loss industry and society’s view of eating as a whole.”
—Online Book Club
“A humorous romp, sure to please many a reader.”
—Midwest Book Review
Molly’s Bistro, owned by Earthling Molly Marbles, is doing well in Mars’ capital of New Chicago. Virtual Vittles, a virtual-reality restaurant, has opened nearby, but when its dining experience leaves customers hungry, they make a beeline for Molly’s place. She and Virtual Vittles owner Rick Frances eventually collaborate on a dining event; unfortunately, it ends with Rick found dead at Molly’s Bistro. Molly, who previously helped detectives solve a different mystery, works the murder case…An undeniably fun tale with a protagonist who can apparently handle anything…
This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of one of mankind’s boldest adventures, the first manned flight to another world. To mark the occasion, an audio version of the first book about the mission of Apollo 8 has been released, narrated by Grover Gardner, a legend in the ears of fans of audiobooks all over the planet.
Says Valerie Anders, wife of Apollo 8 crew member Bill Anders, “When I first read this excellent account, published before the end of the space shuttle era, I was delighted.”
Now, with the advent of high quality audio books and online merchants like iTunes and Audible, and the resonant and expressive voice of narrator Grover Garner, everyone can enjoy this recording of this pivotal moment in space history.
While more recent books have been published on the mission of Apollo 8 (most of which rely heavily on Zimmerman’s work), none has captured the impact the Apollo program had on the families of the astronauts nearly so well as “Genesis – the story of Apollo 8.” The new forward to “Genesis,” by Valerie Anders, contains a moving tribute to those pilots who never returned from their missions – not as faraway as the moon, but just as dangerous and far more frequent.
Is there a future in orbit? This timely book reveals the state of spaceflight at a crucial juncture in the industry’s history.
It’s the 21st-century and everything about the space industry is changing. Rather than despair over the end of American manned missions and a moribund commercial launch market, private sector companies are now changing the way humanity accesses orbit. Upstarts including Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin are building a dizzying array of new spacecraft and rockets, not just for government use, but for any paying customer. At the heart of this space revolution are spaceports, the center and literal launching pads of spaceflight. Spaceports cost hundreds of millions of dollars, face extreme competition, and host operations that do not tolerate failures―which can often be fatal.
Aerospace journalist Joe Pappalardo has witnessed space rocket launches around the world, from the jungle of French Guiana to the coastline of California. In his comprehensive work Spaceport Earth, Pappalardo describes the rise of private companies in the United States and how they are reshaping the way the world is using space for industry and science. Spaceport Earth is a travelogue through modern space history as it is being made, offering space enthusiasts, futurists, and technology buffs a close perspective of rockets and launch sites, and chronicling the stories of industrial titans, engineers, government officials, billionaires, schemers, and politicians who are redefining what it means for humans to be a spacefaring species.