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31 of 114 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Bungled the core of the story, June 30, 2009
This review is from: Rocket Men: The Epic Story of the First Men on the Moon (Hardcover)
In the middle of all the verbal context in the book, the author -- like so many other careless historians and reporters -- crashes and burns over the 'small step' that Armstrong so eloquently describes. He totally misunderstands -- and misrepresents -- it.

"The step was really not so small, by the way. From the last rung of the ladder to the surface of the moon, it was a three-and-a-half foot drop."

Wrong.

The step, taken once Armstrong was already off the ladder and standing on the trashcan-sized footpad of the landing leg the ladder was attached to, was of his left foot moving sideways a few inches and then a few inches down to the lunar surface. That was the 'small step'. This book is clueless.
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Tracked by 4 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 37 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jun 30, 2009 3:10:14 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 1, 2009 11:33:38 AM PDT
MODIFIED: The author pleads that the book does not have these errors, they were introduced by the RD condensation editing, which I guess he had no review or control over. Plausible -- I'll check.

Just reading the excerpt in Readers Digest is enough to persuade me to never buy the book -- what he doesn't make up out of his own imagination (like describing the Mission Control Center erupting in cheers at the moment of touchdown -- it didn't, as I just verified with colleagues of mine who were there at that moment), he misunderstands -- such as portraying the lunar surface as a thin layer of dust underlain by solid rock that was impenetrable by the flagpole. It wasn't, it was compacted dust that turned out to have some very unearthly properties of cohesion and packing -- it was hard, but it was most definitely NOT "solid rock".

These are the simple, easily checkable things, not trivial details but central themes, that are just wrong. I'm not interested in compiling a longer list -- as I suspect other readers may be able to contribute to it, themselves.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 1, 2009 9:17:47 AM PDT
Jim Oberg should read more than the Reader's Digest version. As my review notes, this is a great history that tackles many important themes.

As for the cheering, it is documented in the book from an interview with the head of mission control, Gene Kranz, who said, "The only thing that was out of normal throughout this entire process... was the people behind me in the viewing room start cheering and clapping and they're stamping their feet."

So the person who erred on the detail here was Oberg. It was the viewing room, not the center itself, that erupted in cheers. Nelson got it right, with a quotation and a source note in the backmatter.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 1, 2009 10:20:47 AM PDT
Thanks, Fred. Where were you when the author needed precision editing? When he talked about 'Mission Control', silly moi, I thought he meant M-i-s-s-i-o-n C-o-n-t-r-o-l, not the walled off viewing room behind it. My telepathic powers are definitely fading with age, sad to say.

I admit to over-sensitivity on the 'cheering crowd' meme, since many documentaries -- including NASA's own -- show team celebrations that followed splashdown, but inserted into the post-landing timeline when, actually, the flight control team was silently watching their instruments and displays.

The only cheering inside Mission Control, during a mission, that any of the old timers can remember, was when Apollo-8 came out from behind the moon after firing the rocket engine that sent it back towards Earth.

But you agree he flubbed the 'small step' right?

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 1, 2009 10:25:58 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 1, 2009 10:27:28 AM PDT
....this is the second book that stated that the viewing gallery/area/room at Mission Control erupted in applause upon the announcement of the Eagle's landing (the other book was "First Men On The Moon" by David Harland)...are both author's wrong??

Never mind...just saw your response...

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 1, 2009 10:49:01 AM PDT
Just got this reply from Gene Kranz (my former boss, and my neighbor here in Dickinson, Texas):

"The reference in my book is to the instant of landing when the viewing room burst out clapping and stomping and it could be heard in the MOCR... this led me to call out to the controllers...."OK everybody settle down and standby for T1 Stay No Stay......" The control room remained silent through to handover.... .... "

Kranz continues in his email: "The author is mistaking the instant of landing vs moment of Armstrong stepping on the moon. I do not remember any cheering from the viewing room when he stepped out."

Game, set, match.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 1, 2009 10:55:10 AM PDT
C. Nelson says:
Jim, I am surprised that you would post a review based on a "Readers Digest" excerpt, which collapsed many chapters into 4,000 words, especially since you are a source for the book, and especially since my professional reputation speaks for itself. Rocket Men not only includes the footpad moment, and describes the 'solid rock' as a description used by the astronauts in trying to keep the flag from toppling, it's explicit about the cheering in the gallery and Kranz's response. Please don't do this to other authors. - Craig Nelson

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 1, 2009 10:57:29 AM PDT
I wasn't planning to engage in a discussion with you on this topic, but since you asked:

First of all: "Where were you when the author needed precision editing? When he talked about 'Mission Control', silly moi, I thought he meant M-i-s-s-i-o-n C-o-n-t-r-o-l"

You have truly embarrassed yourself here, and that is sad to see for someone of your reputation.

Silly you must be referring to the Reader's Digest version, not the book itself, where it is clear where the eruption took place and how remarkably disciplined the people in Mission Control were.

Next thing we know, you'll be criticizing War and Peace based on the Cliff's notes.

You're also making too much about that "one small step." I thought of it as metaphor when I first heard it, and I still do. The author spent an awful lot of time with NASA transcripts and archives. Perhaps Armstrong specifies which "small step" he was talking about somewhere in that vast archive, but if he did, Nelson clearly didn't find it.

The same is true about the hardness of the lunar soil. I'm not going to scour the book, but I got the impression that Nelson understood it as you do. He describes how they managed to get the flag to stand up despite the properties of the regolith, and he describes how the blast of Eagle's launch back to Columbia knocked it over. Whatever the cause, from the standpoint of placing the flag, the surface acted like rock, not soil.

You are picking at nits, while a thorough reading of the book demonstrates how well the author understood the issues you claim that he is clueless about. The book is exceptionally well-documented, and your use of the word "clueless" reflects poorly on you. You also seem to have completely missed Part II of the book, where complex historical and political themes unfold in a truly masterful piece of writing.

By the way, I did find a minor factual error and had another question about a number that I sent to the author through his publicist so they can be fixed in future printings. But in a fact-laden book published by an industry that has relegated much of the fact-checking to copy-editors, it would be a huge accomplishment not to have one small slip-up in one giant leap of literature. :)

I'm sorry to say, but what I see here is an author trying to trash the competition. Unfortunately, the result is that you may be damaging your own reputation by doing so.

I respect your work, so that's terribly distressing to see.

Now I'm done with this. I have my own manuscript to attend to.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 1, 2009 11:07:14 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 10, 2009 8:57:43 AM PDT
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In reply to an earlier post on Jul 1, 2009 11:31:22 AM PDT
Fair points -- I clearly did not recognize how significantly the RD version rewrote and changed the material.

My penance will be to buy a copy of the book -- and that's my reward, too.

I'll check the passages there -- and report back here.

This exchange has been illuminating.

People who read the book will probably get an accurate account. People who read the garbled excerpt in RD will be misled. The latter probably outnumber the former by a factor of at least ten to one.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 2, 2009 8:37:00 PM PDT
Boy, I'm sure glad we got this "cheering in the mission control room" issue resolved. Now, I'll finally be able to get a good night's rest. (You people need to get a life.)
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