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  • Shoot for the Moon: The Space Race and the Voyage of Apollo 11 by James Donovan

    Headlines like this one blared from every newspaper in the U.S. (Author's collection, Shoot for the Moon: The Space Race and the Voyage of Apollo 11, Amberley Publishing)

    My last two books—A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn—the Last Great Battle of the American West, and The Blood of Heroes: The 13-Day Struggle for the Alamo—and the Sacrifice That Forged a Nation—were set in the American West of the 19th century.  But I didn’t want to be tagged as just a historian of the Old West, so I decided my next book would involve a 20th century subject. When an editor friend suggested Apollo 11, which of course was the first lunar landing, I didn’t embrace the idea. As a boy I had read a great deal of science fiction, and like many boys followed the U.S. manned space programme and the Space Race with the Soviets, but I wasn’t sure space was the right subject for me, since it involved a lot of science and that subject wasn’t one of my favorites in school. So I lodged the idea in the back of my head and continued to look for my next book subject. But the idea kept sneaking its way into the front of my mind, and at a certain point I realized it might work.

    So I took a look at what had already been published about Apollo 11. There were quite a few books on the entire space program, or parts of it, and several on the entire Apollo programme, but not many on just Apollo 11. Reading science fiction supplied a sense of wonder that I didn’t find in any other kind of reading, and I wanted a book that did that for the “real” SF of the space program. After all, it involved space, and spaceships, and voyaging to another world in our solar system, and it involved great danger—and of course it was tremendously exciting.

    Apollo 11 launches at 9:32 a.m. EDT on July 16, 1969, from pad A, launch complex 39. (c. NASA, Shoot for the Moon: The Space Race and the Voyage of Apollo 11, Amberley Publishing)

    I didn’t find a book on Apollo 11 that gave me that sense of wonder. Most I read either weren’t well-written, or they didn’t cover the full story, or they let the science and technology—and there’s a LOT of that—overwhelm the story and make it hard to read if you don’t have a degree in astronautics. Many were written by science writers who were familiar with the science involved but didn’t seem to realize that most readers weren’t.

    So I decided to take the subject on. But there were a few other reasons I wanted to write this book.

    Most people living today weren’t alive, or old enough to remember, the first moon landing in July 1969. And this is a thing: if one has lived through a significant historical event, when it permeates your experience through various media, you know it happened. You were there, so to speak. But if it happened before one could remember the event, you’re not absolutely sure it really happened—yes, it’s in history books, but so is medieval history, and who’s sure of what happened back then? Even worse, there are some people who steadfastly refuse to believe that it actually happened. Some of those people just prefer to believe in conspiracies, and are not open to evidence and facts. But for open-minded people, I thought a lively and accurate account of one of the most significant events of the 20th century was needed, and might counter that disturbing anti-science (and anti-fact) strain that is far too prevalent in today’s world.

     

     

    Armstrong during the lunar surface EVA, staning near the LM. (c. NASA, Shoot for the Moon: The Space Race and the Voyage of Apollo 11, Amberley Publishing)

    As I began researching the book, a few more reasons emerged. A simple yet obvious reason is that this is just a great story, and one which works on several levels. It’s one of the great tales of adventure and exploration. It’s also a chronicle of the Space Race, which of course was just the most visible element of the Cold War—and most people today don’t realize how serious that was back in the ‘50s and ‘60s, when the Free World was combatting the intended worldwide domination of totalitarian communism. It also involves some fascinating characters—not only the extraordinarily courageous astronauts and cosmonauts, but others behind the scenes: engineers, flight controllers, designers and planners, and yes, even some rocket scientists, who helped make it happen. Few people knew the stories of these “hidden figures.”

    There’s one more reason, and it’s personal, and it goes back to what I mentioned earlier: the love of a young person—me, specifically, but also, I think, millions of others—for that sense of wonder that we got, or get, from SF, or the “real” SF of manned spaceflight. I tried to transmit that feeling in Shoot for the Moon, especially in the first few paragraphs of Chapter One, which begins, “One Saturday morning in October 1957, a fourteen-year-old boy in the small farming town of Fremont, Iowa, woke up to find the world a different place. . . . .” If that sentence intrigues you, then you might be one of the people I wrote this book for. I hope so.

    James Donovan's new book Shoot for the Moon: The Space Race and the Voyage of Apollo 11 is available for purchase now.

  • Space Exploration by Carolyn Collins Petersen

    The Earth as seen from the Moon during the Apollo 8 mission, the first human mission to circle the Moon. Taken Christmas Eve, 1968. (Courtesy NASA, Space Exploration: Past, Present, Future, Amberley Publishing)

    What does it take to build a space-faring society? That's the question I wanted to answer in my book "Space Exploration: Past, Present, and Future". When the editors at Amberley first approached me about doing a history of space exploration, I looked at just what sort of story I could tell in 110,000 or so words. I did a lot of thinking about just how one goes about telling the story of such a major evolutionary step in human history.

    Space exploration is not just a means to space-age technology. It changes the societies involved in ways they didn't quite expect. Of course, it's a historical topic and a fascinating one at that.

    However, the process of creating spacecraft, devising the technologies to support them, to keep humans alive in space, and do it over and over again, involves education, technological advancement, new legal codes, expanded social movements, artistic endeavours, political rivalries, and a good bit of "crystal ball-gazing" into what the future of exploration can be. Eventually, I decided all those were part of the answer to that important question about building our space-faring society.

     

    In "Space Exploration: Past, Present, and Future", readers can explore the many facets of space exploration that answer that question.

    ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet is photographed during a spacewalk in January 2017. (Courtesy NASA, Space Exploration: Past, Present, Future, Amberley Publishing)

    Certainly, any of us who were alive (even as tiny children) in the heyday of the space race (in the 1960s), can recall the headlong rush to the Moon undertaken by the United States and the then-Soviet Union. That competition shaped the world in ways we are still learning.

    Today, more than 75 countries have space agencies and institutes. A handful have actual access to space and that is expected to change rapidly.

    But the space race didn't start with those two countries. If you want to get picky about it, the rockets that lofted men to the Moon trace their lineage back many centuries, to the early Chinese who invented "fire arrows" and shot them at enemies across great distances. In one sense, space flight and exploration have been with us almost since pre-history.

    Another way to look at the history of space exploration is to trace it from the beginnings of flight, which also began with the Chinese, was dreamed about and sketched obsessively by Da Vinci, and eventually achieved by the Montgolfiers, the Wrights and many others. The great rise of flying machines led as surely to spaceflight as the creation of V-2 rockets by Germany and the adoption of flaming arrows by the Mongols.

    NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson looks through a window in the Cupola of the ISS. (Courtesy NASA, Space Exploration: Past, Present, Future, Amberley Publishing)

    For most of us, particularly readers born well after the start of the Space Age, all this is very ancient history. Humanity is now into its second 50 years of spaceflight. New generations now grow up always knowing that there are astronauts in a space station, or cosmonauts launching from Russia, or scientists creating experiments that will soon fly in space or rovers on Mars or spacecraft hurrying out of the solar system. Even more intriguing, most kids today are told that they are of the generation that will land on Mars and perhaps settle the Red Planet. For them, space exploration is a given. It's something "we" have always done and some of them expect to do as part of their careers. To be honest, it was something I expected to do myself, as a child of the 60s seeing the first men land on the Moon.

    In large part, I wrote this book for all the generations that have lived with spaceflight all their lives. Unless one is a space flight enthusiast, most people know what encompasses space exploration, but don't always see the many strands of its history. I often think of the people who have grown up with iPads and smartphones, with access to computers and the Internet and have never known anything different.

    They have a vastly different outlook than their great-grandparents, who -- after World War II -- thought the invention of TV was the cat's pajamas. People alive today have access to the many "new" technologies engendered by space exploration: satellite communications, high-speed airliners, medical instruments and procedures, and so on.

    Mars missions will someday take humans to the Red Planet. The artist's concept shows what a future science team might be doing there, and some of its vehicles and work modules. (Courtesy NASA, Space Exploration: Past, Present, Future, Amberley Publishing)

    I daresay, the future will see the kids of those born with iPhones or smart tablets in their hands happily accepting communications implants or other "bionic" enhancements to their bodies. What do they know of the activities that led to those phones and computers and instantaneous communication capabilities? What science did people do to create space exploration? What laws were written? How did the space industries grow and thrive? What will they do in the future? In large part, that's what this book is about -- the giant leap to space that also spurred new generations of technologies that we take for granted today. For people of my parents' generation, the idea of an orbiting space station was merely a trick of science fiction storytelling. For me and the generations after me, science fiction has come to life. And, for the early 20th century dreams of space flight, science fiction was one way they could further their dreams.

    All those topics are part of the story of space exploration. It's a cultural shift that may have begun with two countries but has spread throughout the world, with more than 75 countries working toward their place in space.

    Now, to be honest, a proper history would be much longer than any one book can contain. So, this book moves along smartly -- giving readers a broad look at all aspects of space exploration. It's my hope that any reader, no matter what level of interest they have in the topic, will come away with a deeper appreciation of space exploration and what it has achieved for humanity. It has shaped societies, cultures, and individuals around the globe. And, in the future, it will very likely herald new strains of humans born and bred in space for deep-space living and exploration. It may have been a small step for a man in 1969, but today, it remains a HUGE step for humankind.

    Carolyn Collins Petersen's book Space Exploration: Past, Present, Future is available for purchase now.

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