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X-15: The NASA Mission Reports: Apogee Books Space Series 13
X-15: The NASA Mission Reports: Apogee Books Space Series 13
by Robert Godwin
Edition: Paperback
24 used & new from $3.00

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent sources, the nuts and bolts of space enthusiasm, April 24, 2002
The "NASA Mission Reports" series, compiled by Robert Godwin, offers collections of essentially unedited original documents from the flights of the golden age of space exploration: press kits, operation reports, crew debriefings, the works. Since there is only a brief introduction to get things going, the casual reader will certainly be overwhelmed by the technical and operational detail. The decision not to "polish" these sometimes rather plain-looking documents in any way, or even edit out spelling errors from the original sources, gives the books a slightly "messy" quality. However, for these very reasons the series is a dream come true for the serious space enthusiast or historian: this is the real thing, a wealth of unaltered, unabridged information directly from the NASA archives. Holding history in your hands.
One of the most famous aircraft of all time, the North American X-15 flew to the edge of space in the 1960's and collected data on hypersonic flight that would be used in many future projects, including the Space Shuttle. Reaching altitudes of over 350,000 feet and a maximum speed of Mach 6.7, it arguably became the world's first reusable spacecraft, and an item of legend for every aerospace aficionado.
Since the X-15 was an entire program and not a self-contained mission like most other volumes in the series, Godwin's task of compiling documents within the format was more difficult than usual. He comes up with a varied and comprehensive selection, including biographies of the twelve pilots who flew the X-15, a contemporary 1959 development history by Robert Houston (Wright Historian), NASA's semi-annual reports to Congress, the entire proposal that won North American the contract, now declassified USAF development plans, and - the holy grail for aircraft buffs - the Flight and Pilot Rescue Manuals and Flight Logs for all 199 missions.
There is even some oddly interesting Hollywood correspondence on the long-forgotten 1961 movie "X-15", as well as the mandatory myriad of photographs, drawings and diagrams. Finally, the CD-ROM features some rare X-15 videos, an interview with pilot Bill Dana looking back on the program, several hundred photographs, and yet more NASA documents. That's about as exhaustive as it gets with just one book, and it demands conscious and patient reading to make productive use. Data junkies will find one of the most rewarding single volumes of the series, and rejoice.


John Glenn: A Memoir (Random House Large Print)
John Glenn: A Memoir (Random House Large Print)
by John Glenn
Edition: Hardcover
42 used & new from $0.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Delightful biography, but short on space hardware, April 17, 2002
John Glenn became the first American in orbit when he circled the Earth three times aboard Friendship 7. The most senior of the original Mercury astronauts, he was trumpeted as a hero upon return, but left the space program shortly thereafter because NASA wouldn't give their famous spokesman a second, potentially disastrous flight. Not until almost thirty years later, that is, when Senator Glenn returned to space at the age of 77, amidst a roar of publicity that rivalled his first mission. In the meantime, he had embarked upon a political career that included a shot at the presidency. A rather distinct biography.
In "John Glenn: A Memoir", the Marine turned Astronaut turned Politician shares with the world his life story, which spans the better part of a century and saw aviation progress from biplanes to the Space Shuttle. Yet this is a deliberate and slow-moving book, written in earnest and matter-of-fact prose. It progresses in strictly chronological order, spends a great amount of nostalgic detail on Glenn's childhood - including mother's cooking and playpen stories -, then moves on to the Marine days flying planes in World War II and Korea, then to his test pilot career. Always one step at a time, one little story after the other.
The results are a mixed bag: while the drama-oriented readers will call it outright dull, others might find the leisurely pace quite immersive and captivating. At the least, it is refreshing to read an astronaut biography that does not suffer from tunnel vision. The space program is not as much as mentioned until about half-time, and even recounting his NASA days, Glenn focuses on the big picture - the political and ideological implications of the space race - rather than technical detail. While the accounts of his actual Mercury and Shuttle flights are vivid and gripping, on the whole there is nothing about the space program that could not be found in most other, specialised books. Not surprising, given that Glenn's astronaut career was illustrious but brief, and something that the die-hard space buffs should consider.
The part between Glenn's flights focuses on his political career, his friendship with the Kennedys, and law making as an Ohio Senator. There is more talk about his loved wife and family, and more emphasis on duty, country, values. In truth, it must be said that the only things arguably more all-American than John Glenn are baseball and apple pie; he constantly reflects on his beliefs and guidelines, and never seems to waver in his uncomplicated optimism and patriotism. More remarkably, it all seems genuine, too: no image polishing, that's just the way he is. Indeed, Glenn colours his omnipresent love of America with plenty of humour and palpable feeling, and comes across not as preachy, but entirely likeable.
The concept of such an awfully nice moralist seems strange in today's cynical times, and this is perhaps the most telling point of all: the text seems like a document from a different age. Like the photographs that come with it, showing Glenn's wedding ceremony in uniform, or piloting Corsairs in World War II, this tale is something out of our reach, something delightfully dated. And "John Glenn: A Memoir" sure is a delightful book. Readers looking for a remarkably rich and varied life story can hardly make a better choice. Space enthusiasts lusting for nuts and bolts might want to think twice.


Apollo 7: The NASA Mission Reports: Apogee Books Space Series 11
Apollo 7: The NASA Mission Reports: Apogee Books Space Series 11
by Robert Godwin
Edition: Paperback
24 used & new from $19.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent sources, the nuts and bolts of space enthusiasm, April 16, 2002
The "NASA Mission Reports" series, compiled by Robert Godwin, offers collections of essentially unedited original documents from the flights of the golden age of space exploration: press kits, operation reports, crew debriefings, the works. Since there is only a brief introduction to get things going, the casual reader will certainly be overwhelmed by the technical and operational detail. The decision not to "polish" these sometimes rather plain-looking documents in any way, or even edit out spelling errors from the original sources, gives the books a slightly "messy" quality. However, for these very reasons the series is a dream come true for the serious space enthusiast or historian: this is the real thing, a wealth of unaltered, unabridged information directly from the NASA archives. Holding history in your hands.
Apollo 7 was the first manned launch in the lunar landing program, essentially an engineering shakedown flight. In most accounts, the crew would become notorious because they, suffering from head colds and boredom, managed to annoy pretty much everybody in the space program. However, it's easy to forget what an enormous task Wally Schirra, Donn Eisele and Walt Cunningham had on their hands: the longest first flight of any spacecraft in history, and a highly complicated one at that. This is the mission that paved the way for the triumph of Apollos 8 and 11.
This particular volume of the series includes the official Press Kit, Pre Launch and Post Launch Mission Operation Reports, the Technical Debriefing of the crew, and a CD-ROM with video and picture material. Since Apollo 7 would test the Command and Service Module in Earth orbit (not carrying the LM), and was also the first manned launch of a Saturn I-B rocket, this is the book to have for information on the CSM and booster. The documents describe all the spacecraft systems in great detail, and the changes made since the Apollo 1 fire. The crew debriefing, naturally, is full of technical jargon and the acronyms which NASA so dearly loves, but offers unique insights into all aspects of the mission. Hundreds of diagrams, tables, drawings and photographs (some colour) round out the book.
The CD features the official 15-minute NASA mission video, some launch footage, recent interviews with Wally Schirra (who still loves to make people laugh) and Walt Cunningham, and several hundred orbital photographs taken by the crew. While Apollo 7 might not have been the most spectacular flight ever, Robert Godwin's treatment leaves nothing to be desired: as usual, the "NASA Mission Reports" offer a prime collection of excellent material.


The Last Man on the Moon: Astronaut Eugene Cernan and America's Race in Space
The Last Man on the Moon: Astronaut Eugene Cernan and America's Race in Space
by Eugene Cernan
Edition: Hardcover
90 used & new from $0.44

41 of 43 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Charming page-turner with philosophical undertones, April 15, 2002
Selected with the third group of American astronauts in 1963, Eugene Cernan "walked" in space as the pilot of Gemini 9, went around the Moon on Apollo 10, then returned there as the Commander of Apollo 17, the last lunar landing mission. A successful and interesting career even for astronaut standards. His autobiography, "The Last Man on the Moon", offers a personal account of those glory days of space exploration.
Throughout the book, Cernan portrays himself as a competitive workaholic, and it shows: there are a few introductory chapters on Gene's childhood and career as a naval aviator, and a brief afterthought on life after NASA, but the bulk of "Last Man" is about the space program, the space program, and the space program. Training and mission planning, the mechanics of crew selection, descriptions of his colleagues and anecdotes about their extracurricular activities, it's all there. The flights themselves are recounted in vivid detail, including a nauseatingly dangerous EVA on Gemini 9 and geology trips through the lunar valley of Taurus-Littrow. Overall, as Cernan later reflects, it feels "as if I was getting off one fast-moving express train only to immediately board another", and describes well the hectic and busy pace of the Moon race.
Underlying it all, and well in evidence, is the aggressive "right stuff" attitude usually found with this elite of pilots. It's easy to mistake Gene's self-confidence for arrogance, but he also displays plenty of humour and self-ironic jabs. Cernan was one of the more personable and gregarious astronauts, who clearly enjoyed the social perks that came with the job, and it's this mixture of cocky determination and laid-back charm that make his autobiography a gripping read. Indeed, "Last Man" is a page-turner in the real sense of the word. Particularly enlightening is the episode that saw Geno decline a LM pilot seat on Apollo 16, a gamble that paid off and in the end brought him command of his own mission. So is his relationship with geologist-astronaut Jack Schmitt, whom Cernan only grudgingly accepted on his crew. After some initial macho reservations against the "pebble-pusher", he learned to respect Schmitt as a tireless worker and supremely gifted individual who helped make Apollo 17 the most well rounded team of all. In between, with the lunar module on Apollo 10 spinning out of control for a moment, or a helicopter crash in training, there are enough close calls for several lifetimes.
The human qualities of the book show when Gene talks about his wife, Barbara, and the ordeals she had to go through, with an often absent husband in a dangerous job, while always displaying the brave "Mrs. Astronaut" to the public world. Ultimately, this ordeal led to the disintegration of Cernan's first marriage, and he speaks with a heightened sense of value about his family of today and his grandchildren. Such a sense of deep appreciation and philosophical reflection also shines through when Gene recounts his awe as one of only twelve humans to ever set foot on the Moon, "looking up at the cobalt Earth immersed in infinite blackness", and how the unique experience might have changed him. These are moments that he clearly treasures deeply, that left him with a restless yearning forever after. Cernan seems sad, not selfish, thinking that the accomplishments of the ten years of Apollo would probably take twice as long today, in a much more cautious and conservative age of spacefaring. And he expresses a sense of guilt at feeling unable to truly share what he saw in space with the rest of the world.
Geno needn't have worried there, for "The Last Man on the Moon" is a fabulous book. Well-written and informative, it leaves little to be desired. Perhaps, given the awe-inspiring nature of the subject, some chapters fly by just a tad too quickly, and one could have wished for a little more detail here, or a little deeper thought there. Overall, though, there are few better astronaut biographies. The page-turner qualities, Cernan's unique perspective (here is one of the three guys who went to the Moon twice!) and a subtle, but strong sense of philosophical reflection make for a very worthwhile read, not only for space enthusiasts.


Leap of Faith: An Astronaut's Journey Into the Unknown
Leap of Faith: An Astronaut's Journey Into the Unknown
by Bruce Henderson
Edition: Hardcover
69 used & new from $0.92

11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Flawed crossbreed of astronaut biography and conspiracy yarn, February 22, 2002
Colonel Gordon Cooper is one of the Mercury Seven, the first group of American astronauts. A test pilot from Edwards Air Force base, he flew the last and longest of the pioneering Mercury missions, dubbed Faith 7, and later went into space a second time aboard Gemini 5. A maverick at heart, Cooper fell out of favour with some of the NASA higher-ups and left the agency after being denied command of a lunar landing mission.
His autobiography, Leap of Faith, is a surprising and somewhat schizoid read, mixing Cooper's space program experience with increasingly dubious episodes on UFO sightings and telepathy. The overall structure has a stitched-together feel to it, and the last third with Gordo charging off into the world of the paranormal seems to belong to another book entirely. The writing style throughout is average journalist fare - bland vocabulary, repeated words in one sentence -, but not too bad overall.
Cooper's account of the space program offers no startling insights or deep emotional truths; his added personal perspective is interesting enough, though; the actual narrations of the Faith 7 flight, photographing the Himalayas, manual re-entry and all, and the 8-day Gemini mission with Pete Conrad are quite captivating. There is very little in the way of technical detail, some nice stories about training and promotional voyages, the usual photographs, and that's it. All in all, Leap of Faith remains a superficial effort. Gordo's childhood and background, his career before NASA and his family life receive preciously little attention, serving mostly to produce anecdotes or, in the case of his Air Force years, UFO speculations. Disappointing, the more so in light of the following chapters.
When he's denied the chance to command an Apollo mission, Cooper leaves NASA in 1970. Some accounts claim that he was slacking off, that he carried his maverick attitude into training, while others say it was a political decision by astronaut chief Deke Slayton, who wanted to get his friend Al Shepard a flight (Leap of Faith, naturally, supports the latter point of view). It's interesting, in this regard, to compare Slayton's superb and carefully researched autobiography with Cooper's effort.
After retirement, Gordo embarks on a surreal journey of X-fileish proportions, minus the humour: after some time flight testing "saucers" build by a Salt Lake City businessman and UFO believer, he is contacted by a young woman who claims to have telepathic contact with an extraterrestrial intelligence. Naturally, she describes these aliens - the "Universal Intelligence Consortium" - in such unimaginative and naively anthropocentric terms that it merits pity. But Gordo, being attracted to her and all, obviously reasons differently. And so the two spend their time together reconstructing obscure Tesla inventions, until she tells Cooper that he's been selected to take a spin aboard a real alien spaceship. Alas, the mission is scrubbed at the last minute, seemingly due to political struggles between various extraterrestrial factions. Too bad.
At least Gordo is portrayed with a last holdout of scepticism throughout these strange proceedings, and undecided in the end. Ultimately, Leap of Faith merely repeats some of the popular conspiracy theories - Area 51 is there, too -, content to raise supposedly unanswered questions. Still, the example it gives of uncritical thinking and silly (often self-contradictory) logic is troubling. The epilogue, with Cooper talking about the present-day space program and a farewell to his buddy, the late Pete Conrad, comes as quite a relief.
The more so since the book is riddled with a myriad of inaccuracies. To name but two of the most obvious examples, the Saturn V rocket's first stage has five engines, not eight. And Russian Cosmonaut Pavel Belyayev, who went into space but once aboard Voskhod 2, was hardly "a veteran of two spaceflights" when Cooper met him in 1965. As aviation books go, it doesn't get any sloppier than this. Regarding the UFO mutterings, they are rendered even more outlandish - if it were needed - alongside capital mistakes like these.
Natural, perhaps, considering the lesser "conspiracy" fare on the market, although one must feel disappointed to find such yarn in a book carrying the name of Gordon Cooper. The benefit of doubt, mercifully, suggests that a certain Mr. Henderson did the actual writing, but the fact that Gordo obviously didn't bother much with proof-reading is distinctly unimpressive just as well. Especially when working with an author who is truly at odds with looking up basic technical and biographical data. Maverick or not, if you do an autobiography, you might as well do it right.
Still, the okay passages on the space program, with Gordo's refreshing "strap-it-on-and-go" attitude shining through, prevent Leap of Faith from becoming a total disaster. When read like an adventure novel - "The Right Stuff" meets "X-Files" -, the book has some good moments, and the "owns all"-space buff will merrily add it to his collection despite the flaws (he knows where else to find the accurate data, anyway). A less specialised (or less nutty) reader, though, will find the Cooper / Henderson cooperation quite unsatisfying.


A Man on The Moon: 3 Volume Illustrated Commemorative Boxed Set
A Man on The Moon: 3 Volume Illustrated Commemorative Boxed Set
by Andrew Chaikin
Edition: Hardcover
25 used & new from $31.64

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspiring portrait of the Apollo program's human side, February 22, 2002
Andrew Chaikin's "A Man on the Moon" is an authoritative and inspiring portrait of the Apollo program's human side. While other accounts focus tightly on technical or scientific detail, where most astronaut biographies offer only the perspective of a single individual, this book reaches for the big picture, the grand historical and spiritual implications of the manned lunar landings.
Amidst the cultural earthquakes of the 60's, the Vietnam War and the din of protest, the author claims, we have never fully come to grips with the fact that Man has walked on another world, that we became a people without limits. Chaikin sets out to recount the story of the lunar voyages that the astronauts never wrote, and to bridge the gap between the high-tech realm of spaceflight and everyday experience. Based on extensive interviews with all surviving moon voyagers, "A Man on the Moon" is an important historical document as much as it is a great read.
Setting the tone, a short prologue mixes Kennedy's famous "before this decade is out" challenge with the story of how Pete Conrad, naval test pilot at Miramar and future moonwalker, learned of his selection as an astronaut in 1962. Throughout the book, Chaikin strives to blend the historical and the human dimensions of the space program. Where some of the lesser astronaut biographies stay on the surface and resort to "fighter jock" clichés, he succeeds at capturing the full spirit and emotional depth, be it the tragic Apollo 1 fire and subsequent recovery, the pompous triumph of Apollos 8 and 11, the drama and narrow escape of Apollo 13.
Every landing mission is assigned its own chapter and unique tone. The close comradeship of the Apollo 12 crew, "Sailors on the Ocean of Storms". The personal exorcism that Apollo 14 was to Commander Al Shepard, who had been grounded for many years. The glorious journey of scientific exploration undertaken by Apollo 15, first of the longer lunar rover missions. Naturally, some flights and astronauts receive more attention than others; but while Apollo 7, 9 and 10 are passed over quickly in comparison, even they or the Mercury and Gemini programs are treated more thoroughly than in some lesser accounts. On the whole, "A Man on the Moon" offers excellent detail for such an all-encompassing work. Hundreds of superbly chosen photographs and diagrams, biographical astronaut information and a thoughtful epilogue round out the book. The writing is rich and captivating throughout.
While there is better technical or scientific information to be found in other, more specialised works, Chaikin's book was intended to portray the man inside the space suit, to make us feel what they felt. At that it succeeds as brilliantly as the written word possibly can, without ever over-simplifying or fictionalising the story of this great adventure. Therein lies the achievement of "A Man on the Moon". As a guide for the casually interested reader, or an introduction for the budding specialist, this is the definite book on the Apollo program.


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