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Failure Is Not an Option: Mission Control from Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond Hardcover – April 12, 2000

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In 1957, the Russians launched Sputnik and the ensuing space race. Three years later, Gene Kranz left his aircraft testing job to join NASA and champion the American cause. What he found was an embryonic department run by whiz kids (such as himself), sharp engineers and technicians who had to create the Mercury mission rules and procedure from the ground up. As he says, "Since there were no books written on the actual methodology of space flight, we had to write them as we went along."

Kranz was part of the mission control team that, in January 1961, launched a chimpanzee into space and successfully retrieved him, and made Alan Shepard the first American in space in May 1961. Just two months later they launched Gus Grissom for a space orbit, John Glenn orbited Earth three times in February 1962, and in May of 1963 Gordon Cooper completed the final Project Mercury launch with 22 Earth orbits. And through them all, and the many Apollo missions that followed, Gene Kranz was one of the integral inside men--one of those who bore the responsibility for the Apollo 1 tragedy, and the leader of the "tiger team" that saved the Apollo 13 astronauts.

Moviegoers know Gene Kranz through Ed Harris's Oscar-nominated portrayal of him in Apollo 13, but Kranz provides a more detailed insider's perspective in his book Failure Is Not an Option. You see NASA through his eyes, from its primitive days when he first joined up, through the 1993 shuttle mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope, his last mission control project. His memoir, however, is not high literature. Kranz has many accomplishments and honors to his credit, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, but this is his first book, and he's not a polished author. There are, perhaps, more behind-the-scenes details and more paragraphs devoted to what Cape Canaveral looked like than the general public demands. If, however, you have a long-standing fascination with aeronautics, if you watched Apollo 13 and wanted more, Failure Is Not an Option will fill the bill. --Stephanie Gold

From Publishers Weekly

When the heroic American astronauts of the '60s and '70s inquired, "Houston, do you read?" it was often Krantz's team who answered from the ground. Veteran NASA flight controller Krantz (portrayed by Ed Harris in the film Apollo 13) has written a personable memoir, one that follows his and NASA's careers from the start of the space race through "the last lunar strike," Apollo 17 (1972-1973). Krantz's story opens in the world of the first U.S. space scientists, of exploding Mercury-Atlas rockets, flaming escape towers and "the first rule of flight control": "If you don't know what to do, don't do anything!" Its climax is Apollo 13, with Krantz serving as "lead flight director" and helping to save the trapped astronauts' lives. His account of that barely averted disaster evokes the adrenalized mood of the flight controllers and the technical problems ("gimbal lock," oxygen status, return trajectories) that had to be solved for the astronauts to survive. Elsewhere in these often-gripping pages we learn of the quarrels that almost derailed Gemini 9A's spacewalk; "the best leaders the program ever had," among them George Mueller, who revived NASA after a 1966 launchpad fire; the forest of internal acronyms and argot ("Go-NoGo," "all-up," EVA, the Trench, CSM, GNC, FIDO, RETRO, GUIDO); and the combination of teamwork and expertise that made the moon landings possible. Plenty of books (and several films) have already tried to depict the space program's excitement; few of their creators had the first-person experience or the attention to detail Krantz has, whose role as flight control "White" his readers will admire or even wish to emulate. Eight b&w photos. (Apr.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1St Edition edition (April 12, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743200799
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743200790
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (241 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #71,468 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

If you have any interest in the space program at all, you MUST read this book.
Kevin W. Parker
Gene Kranz provides the reader with a remarkably vivid account of what it is like to be behind the scenes of Mission Control.
William M. Foster
This book was very well written and I was very surprised at how hard it was for me to put it down.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

142 of 146 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on March 30, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Gene Kranz was a flight director for most of the U.S. manned space program, and was on duty for some of the most critical events - including the first moon landing, and, of course the Apollo 13 accident.
In "Failure Is Not an Option," Kranz tells the story of Mission Control from the begining (he wrote some of the intial procedures manuals) through the Space Shuttle program. He shows how the ground controllers developed into a team, not only with each other, but with the astronauts on board the spacecraft.
Kranz may not be the most polished writer, but this is a first-person account from someone who helped make history. One of the things I really liked about the book is that Kranz not only took detailed notes during the missions (that was his first flight assignment), but he held on to them and used them to provide a more detailed account than I have seen before of the key missions from the perspective of Mission Control. He doesn't pull punches, and he's not afraid to admit mistakes, and this gives this book an air of honesty that you don't always find in an autobiography.
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61 of 62 people found the following review helpful By William M. Foster on April 10, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Gene Kranz provides the reader with a remarkably vivid account of what it is like to be behind the scenes of Mission Control. From the initial procedures he wrote for the Mercury program, to the clipped voices of controllers working a spacecraft contingency to the sometimes abandoned way they let off steam off-console, Mr. Kranz brings you an accurate and very readable account of the MCC. From my own experiences of 20 years in the MCC, this book provides a very personal glimpse in how we continue to work. For the reader who remembers growing up with the highs and lows of the space race, this book will rekindle all the emotions of the time and fill in many of the blanks that can only come from an insider such as Mr. Kranz. "Failure Is Not An Option" should be required reading for any one currently working at the MCC, and for anyone wanting to learn more about what it took to put a man on the moon.
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58 of 60 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 5, 2000
Format: Hardcover
In "Failure Is Not An Option", Kranz tells it like it was. This is a very accurate description of life as a flight controller from 1960 until the end of the Apollo program. The characters are real and the circumstances they lived in are accurately portrayed in a manner that is interesting and provoking. I know because I was there.
Sim Sup
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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Howard Bone on April 9, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Thanks to "Apollo13", Gene Kranz's name has become known to new generations, as well as those whose memories of the moon landings had faded. Even so, few knew much about the man who played a key role in the whole of America's space programme, from its first (sometines desperate) attempts to keep up with Russia's lead, until the Shuttle took on Kennedy's torch into space.
This book provides a clear insight into the space programme itself, but (unlike other books on the subject) it gives the reader a rare glimpse of the inner thoughts, fears, and patriotism of the man who was only 35 when he led the team of controllers which actually guided the Apollo missions to their objectives (and got them home when things went wrong).
Kranz is open about his strong religious convictions, his patriotism for his homeland, and his absolute belief in what he was doing. His commitment to the men with whom he worked comes across strongly, "men" who themselves were in the main only just out of college. In many ways, this might be expected, from a former fighter pilot, and a man whose crewcut hair style scared off the boys chasing his daughters. What is unexpected, is the raw emotion that the experiences which he went through generated in him. Kranz is honest throughout each chapter of this entralling book.
He writes as both a team player, and a team leader. Reading the book clearly shows why he is in demand at conferences to speak and pass on some of his proven ideas about clear leadership and vision.
I confess to being both a space buff, and a fan of Gene Kranz. Nervertheless, I can strongly recommend the book which serves not only as another historic record of those exciting times, but also as being a book which, for once, shows in a meaningful way how something can be achieved, if the team want it badly enough.
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36 of 38 people found the following review helpful By taking a rest HALL OF FAME on April 6, 2000
Format: Hardcover
The fact that Apollo 13 did not appear in the book until page 306 of 380 pages put a great deal of NASA and their missions in perspective for me.
Apollo 13 is well known by those who remember, and a generation that learned about it through the movie, and great books like, Tom Lovell's "Lost Moon". I hope as many people know about the tragedy of Apollo 1, and The Challenger is still rather fresh in the public's mind.
Apollo 13 was an incredible accomplishment by all involved, and the 3 men who persevered to make it back are nothing short of remarkable. Those on the ground took everything so personally, but the crew actually had to live through it. However the book puts this mission into perspective by taking the reader through the Mercury and Gemini programs as well.
Alan Shepard was the first to climb on a rocket that had a bad habit of exploding. I don't know what the "Right Stuff" actually is, but he had to made from it. And the Mercury Astronauts that followed all had experiences that were way up on the terror scale for non-astronauts/test pilots. That is one of the most eye opening parts of this book, every mission was so new, that the majority had problems that were potentially fatal.
You will read about the first moon landing, I never knew what happened on that one. Manned mission hit by lightening, a mission coming back with engines still on because who knew if the heat shield was still there. Every mission is just incredible from the complexity, and despite this, the rate of success.
I especially admired the manner that Mr. Kranz discussed the blown hatch on Gus Grissom's flight. The movie did a grave injustice to a man who subsequently died doing his job.
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