Since John Glenn’s death I have been going through books on the various space programs. I wanted to fill in my gaps of knowledge since while growing up in that era I knew little of the Mercury and Gemini programs.
So started with The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe’s masterful book on the Mercury program. The opening chapters describing a jet pilots life were just great writing with a poetic rhythm. Such a great book.
Next up was “On the Shoulders of Titans: History of Project Gemini.” This was a straight forward history produced by NASA (free PDF). A bit dry, but informative. It kind of freaks me out I didn’t know about the Gemini 6A and 7 accomplishing the first space rendezvous. Had no idea we ever sent up two crews close together.
Now I am reading A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts by Andrew Chaikin. I got the audiobook version of this which is done by my favorite narrator Bronson Pinchot. This one is really blowing me away. This approaches “The Right Stuff” in writing skill. Chaikin eventually was able to interview almost all of the Apollo pilots that were still living at the time. So you see it colored by these interviews adding so much flavor and really bringing you into the moment. Just so well done. I just finished the part on Apollo 8 mission, the first to go around the moon and first using the new Saturn V rocket. I was ten at the time and remember listening to their broadcast on Christmas Eve on my crystal radio set with the single earpiece and braided cord. Listening to them describe the moons surface and then alternately read from Genesis. I remember this so well, although I had no idea what the book of Genesis was. My exposure to scripture was all accidental. In fact decades later I was surprised to find out how many phrases I knew were actually scriptural references. YouTube video with the Genesis reading from the Astronauts.
Regardless the audiobook version of A Man on the Moon is phenomenal. Pinchot’s skill is so evident while being both restrained and dramatic when the story is open to it. A good history is a time machine into the past and this is that in spades. The introduction to the book is from Tom Hanks who describes the impact it made on him for his preparations for Apollo 13 along with others involved. Astronaut Jim Lovell the commander of Apollo 13 was also one of the crew on Apollo 8 and Command Pilot of Gemini 10.
The space programs was transformative for me being that they lead me to my lifetime love of Science Fiction along with technical interests starting as an electronics hobbyist, a Navy Career as an Avionics tech doing component repair of “black boxes”, and then a career working with computers as an application developer. So like many others influenced by this era it is sad to see our space program dwindle so. The sadness of watching live the Challenger explode and the joy of watching the subsequent Discovery launch while I was in Florida on a port visit with the U.S.S. America (CV–66). I remember the night before the successful Discovery launch playing the Commodore 64 Space Shuttle: A Journey into Space simulator from Activision all night long until finally having success.